This gentleman was shown into the room originally assigned to the patriotic Mr. Pott; and the waiter remarked, in dumb astonishment at the singular coincidence, that he had no sooner lighted the candles than the gentleman, diving into his hat, drew forth a newspaper, and began to read it with the very same expression of indignant scorn, which, upon the majestic features of Pott, had paralysed his energies an hour before. The man observed too, that, whereas Mr. Pott's scorn had been roused by a newspaper headed the Eatanswill INDEPENDENT, this gentleman's withering contempt was awakened by a newspaper entitled the Eatanswill GAZETTE.
'Send the landlord,' said the stranger.
'Yes, sir,' rejoined the waiter.
The landlord was sent, and came.
'Are you the landlord?' inquired the gentleman.
'I am sir,' replied the landlord.
'My name is Slurk,' said the gentleman.
The landlord slightly inclined his head.
'Slurk, sir,' repeated the gentleman haughtily. 'Do you know me now, man?'
The landlord scratched his head, looked at the ceiling, and at the stranger, and smiled feebly.
'Do you know me, man?' inquired the stranger angrily.
The landlord made a strong effort, and at length replied,
'Well, Sir, I do not know you.'
'Great Heaven!' said the stranger, dashing his clenched fist upon the table. 'And this is popularity!'
The landlord took a step or two towards the door; the stranger fixing his eyes upon him, resumed.
'This,' said the stranger — 'this is gratitude for years of labour and study in behalf of the masses. I alight wet and weary; no enthusiastic crowds press forward to greet their champion; the church bells are silent; the very name elicits no responsive feeling in their torpid bosoms. It is enough,' said the agitated Mr. Slurk, pacing to and fro, 'to curdle the ink in one's pen, and induce one to abandon their cause for ever.'
'Did you say brandy-and-water, Sir?' said the landlord, venturing a hint.
'Rum,' said Mr. Slurk, turning fiercely upon him. 'Have you got a fire anywhere?'
'We can light one directly, Sir,' said the landlord.
'Which will throw out no heat until it is bed-time,' interrupted Mr. Slurk. 'Is there anybody in the kitchen?'
Not a soul. There was a beautiful fire. Everybody had gone, and the house door was closed for the night.
'I will drink my rum-and-water,' said Mr. Slurk, 'by the kitchen fire.' So, gathering up his hat and newspaper, he stalked solemnly behind the landlord to that humble apartment, and throwing himself on a settle by the fireside, resumed his countenance of scorn, and began to read and drink in silent dignity.
Now, some demon of discord, flying over the Saracen's Head at that moment, on casting down his eyes in mere idle curiosity, happened to behold Slurk established comfortably by the kitchen fire, and Pott slightly elevated with wine in another room; upon which the malicious demon, darting down into the last-mentioned apartment with inconceivable rapidity, passed at once into the head of Mr. Bob Sawyer, and prompted him for his (the demon's) own evil purpose to speak as follows: —
'I say, we've let the fire out. It's uncommonly cold after the rain, isn't it?'
'It really is,' replied Mr. Pickwick, shivering.
'It wouldn't be a bad notion to have a cigar by the kitchen fire, would it?' said Bob Sawyer, still prompted by the demon aforesaid.
'It would be particularly comfortable, I think,' replied Mr. Pickwick. 'Mr. Pott, what do you say?'
Mr. Pott yielded a ready assent; and all four travellers, each with his glass in his hand, at once betook themselves to the kitchen, with Sam Weller heading the procession to show them the way.
The stranger was still reading; he looked up and started. Mr. Pott started.
'What's the matter?' whispered Mr. Pickwick.
'That reptile!' replied Pott.
'What reptile?' said Mr. Pickwick, looking about him for fear he should tread on some overgrown black beetle, or dropsical spider.
'That reptile,' whispered Pott, catching Mr. Pickwick by the arm, and pointing towards the stranger. 'That reptile Slurk, of the INDEPENDENT!'
'Perhaps we had better retire,' whispered Mr. Pickwick.
'Never, Sir,' rejoined Pott, pot-valiant in a double sense — 'never.' With these words, Mr. Pott took up his position on an opposite settle, and selecting one from a little bundle of newspapers, began to read against his enemy.
Mr. Pott, of course read the INDEPENDENT, and Mr. Slurk, of course, read the GAZETTE; and each gentleman audibly expressed his contempt at the other's compositions by bitter laughs and sarcastic sniffs; whence they proceeded to more open expressions of opinion, such as 'absurd,' 'wretched,' 'atrocity,' 'humbug,' 'knavery', 'dirt,' 'filth,' 'slime,' 'ditch-water,' and other critical remarks of the like nature.
Both Mr. Bob Sawyer and Mr. Ben Allen had beheld these symptoms of rivalry and hatred, with a degree of delight which imparted great additional relish to the cigars at which they were puffing most vigorously. The moment they began to flag, the mischievous Mr. Bob Sawyer, addressing Slurk with great politeness, said —
'Will you allow me to look at your paper, Sir, when you have quite done with it?'
'You will find very little to repay you for your trouble in this contemptible THING, sir,' replied Slurk, bestowing a Satanic frown on Pott.
'You shall have this presently,' said Pott, looking up, pale with rage, and quivering in his speech, from the same cause. 'Ha! ha! you will be amused with this FELLOW'S audacity.'
Terrible emphasis was laid upon 'thing' and 'fellow'; and the faces of both editors began to glow with defiance.
'The ribaldry of this miserable man is despicably disgusting,' said Pott, pretending to address Bob Sawyer, and scowling upon Slurk. Here, Mr. Slurk laughed very heartily, and folding up the paper so as to get at a fresh column conveniently, said, that the blockhead really amused him.
'What an impudent blunderer this fellow is,' said Pott, turning from pink to crimson.
'Did you ever read any of this man's foolery, Sir?' inquired Slurk of Bob Sawyer.
'Never,' replied Bob; 'is it very bad?'
'Oh, shocking! shocking!' rejoined Slurk.
'Really! Dear me, this is too atrocious!' exclaimed Pott, at this juncture; still feigning to be absorbed in his reading.
'If you can wade through a few sentences of malice, meanness, falsehood, perjury, treachery, and cant,' said Slurk, handing the paper to Bob, 'you will, perhaps, be somewhat repaid by a laugh at the style of this ungrammatical twaddler.'
'What's that you said, Sir?' inquired Mr. Pott, looking up, trembling all over with passion.
'What's that to you, sir?' replied Slurk.
'Ungrammatical twaddler, was it, sir?' said Pott.
'Yes, sir, it was,' replied Slurk; 'and BLUE BORE, Sir, if you like that better; ha! ha!'
Mr. Pott retorted not a word at this jocose insult, but deliberately folded up his copy of the INDEPENDENT, flattened it carefully down, crushed it beneath his boot, spat upon it with great ceremony, and flung it into the fire.
'There, sir,' said Pott, retreating from the stove, 'and that's the way I would serve the viper who produces it, if I were not, fortunately for him, restrained by the laws of my country.'
'Serve him so, sir!' cried Slurk, starting up. 'Those laws shall never be appealed to by him, sir, in such a case. Serve him so, sir!'
'Hear! hear!' said Bob Sawyer.
'Nothing can be fairer,' observed Mr. Ben Allen.
'Serve him so, sir!' reiterated Slurk, in a loud voice.
Mr. Pott darted a look of contempt, which might have withered an anchor.
'Serve him so, sir!' reiterated Slurk, in a louder voice than before.
'I will not, sir,' rejoined Pott.
'Oh, you won't, won't you, sir?' said Mr. Slurk, in a taunting manner; 'you hear this, gentlemen! He won't; not that he's afraid — , oh, no! he WON'T. Ha! ha!'
'I consider you, sir,' said Mr. Pott, moved by this sarcasm, 'I consider you a viper. I look upon you, sir, as a man who has placed himself beyond the pale of society, by his most audacious, disgraceful, and abominable public conduct. I view you, sir, personally and politically, in no other light than as a most unparalleled and unmitigated viper.'
The indignant Independent did not wait to hear the end of this personal denunciation; for, catching up his carpet-bag, which was well stuffed with movables, he swung it in the air as Pott turned away, and, letting it fall with a circular sweep on his head, just at that particular angle of the bag where a good thick hairbrush happened to be packed, caused a sharp crash to be heard throughout the kitchen, and brought him at once to the ground.
'Gentlemen,' cried Mr. Pickwick, as Pott started up and seized the fire-shovel — 'gentlemen! Consider, for Heaven's sake — help — Sam — here — pray, gentlemen — interfere, somebody.'