'Mr. Sawyer!' exclaimed the old lady, starting.
'Not the least doubt of it, ma'am,' rejoined Bob, looking wondrous wise. 'Medicine, in time, my dear ma'am, would have prevented it all.'
'Mr. Sawyer,' said the old lady, more flurried than before, 'this conduct is either great impertinence to one in my situation, Sir, or it arises from your not understanding the object of my visit. If it had been in the power of medicine, or any foresight I could have used, to prevent what has occurred, I should certainly have done so. I had better see my nephew at once,' said the old lady, twirling her reticule indignantly, and rising as she spoke.
'Stop a moment, ma'am,' said Bob Sawyer; 'I'm afraid I have not understood you. What IS the matter, ma'am?'
'My niece, Mr. Sawyer,' said the old lady: 'your friend's sister.'
'Yes, ma'am,' said Bob, all impatience; for the old lady, although much agitated, spoke with the most tantalising deliberation, as old ladies often do. 'Yes, ma'am.'
'Left my home, Mr. Sawyer, three days ago, on a pretended visit to my sister, another aunt of hers, who keeps the large boarding-school, just beyond the third mile-stone, where there is a very large laburnum-tree and an oak gate,' said the old lady, stopping in this place to dry her eyes.
'Oh, devil take the laburnum-tree, ma'am!' said Bob, quite forgetting his professional dignity in his anxiety. 'Get on a little faster; put a little more steam on, ma'am, pray.'
'This morning,' said the old lady slowly — 'this morning, she — '
'She came back, ma'am, I suppose,' said Bob, with great animation. 'Did she come back?'
'No, she did not; she wrote,' replied the old lady.
'What did she say?' inquired Bob eagerly.
'She said, Mr. Sawyer,' replied the old lady — 'and it is this I want to prepare Benjamin's mind for, gently and by degrees; she said that she was — I have got the letter in my pocket, Mr. Sawyer, but my glasses are in the carriage, and I should only waste your time if I attempted to point out the passage to you, without them; she said, in short, Mr. Sawyer, that she was married.' 'What!' said, or rather shouted, Mr. Bob Sawyer.
'Married,' repeated the old lady.
Mr. Bob Sawyer stopped to hear no more; but darting from the surgery into the outer shop, cried in a stentorian voice, 'Ben, my boy, she's bolted!'
Mr. Ben Allen, who had been slumbering behind the counter, with his head half a foot or so below his knees, no sooner heard this appalling communication, than he made a precipitate rush at Mr. Martin, and, twisting his hand in the neck-cloth of that taciturn servitor, expressed an obliging intention of choking him where he stood. This intention, with a promptitude often the effect of desperation, he at once commenced carrying into execution, with much vigour and surgical skill.
Mr. Martin, who was a man of few words and possessed but little power of eloquence or persuasion, submitted to this operation with a very calm and agreeable expression of countenance, for some seconds; finding, however, that it threatened speedily to lead to a result which would place it beyond his power to claim any wages, board or otherwise, in all time to come, he muttered an inarticulate remonstrance and felled Mr. Benjamin Allen to the ground. As that gentleman had his hands entangled in his cravat, he had no alternative but to follow him to the floor. There they both lay struggling, when the shop door opened, and the party was increased by the arrival of two most unexpected visitors, to wit, Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Samuel Weller.
The impression at once produced on Mr. Weller's mind by what he saw, was, that Mr. Martin was hired by the establishment of Sawyer, late Nockemorf, to take strong medicine, or to go into fits and be experimentalised upon, or to swallow poison now and then with the view of testing the efficacy of some new antidotes, or to do something or other to promote the great science of medicine, and gratify the ardent spirit of inquiry burning in the bosoms of its two young professors. So, without presuming to interfere, Sam stood perfectly still, and looked on, as if he were mightily interested in the result of the then pending experiment. Not so, Mr. Pickwick. He at once threw himself on the astonished combatants, with his accustomed energy, and loudly called upon the bystanders to interpose.
This roused Mr. Bob Sawyer, who had been hitherto quite paralysed by the frenzy of his companion. With that gentleman's assistance, Mr. Pickwick raised Ben Allen to his feet. Mr. Martin finding himself alone on the floor, got up, and looked about him.
'Mr. Allen,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'what is the matter, Sir?'
'Never mind, Sir!' replied Mr. Allen, with haughty defiance.
'What is it?' inquired Mr. Pickwick, looking at Bob Sawyer. 'Is he unwell?'
Before Bob could reply, Mr. Ben Allen seized Mr. Pickwick by the hand, and murmured, in sorrowful accents, 'My sister, my dear Sir; my sister.'
'Oh, is that all!' said Mr. Pickwick. 'We shall easily arrange that matter, I hope. Your sister is safe and well, and I am here, my dear Sir, to — '
'Sorry to do anythin' as may cause an interruption to such wery pleasant proceedin's, as the king said wen he dissolved the parliament,' interposed Mr. Weller, who had been peeping through the glass door; 'but there's another experiment here, sir. Here's a wenerable old lady a — lyin' on the carpet waitin' for dissection, or galwinism, or some other rewivin' and scientific inwention.'
'I forgot,' exclaimed Mr. Ben Allen. 'It is my aunt.'
'Dear me!' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Poor lady! Gently Sam, gently.'
'Strange sitivation for one o' the family,' observed Sam Weller, hoisting the aunt into a chair. 'Now depitty sawbones, bring out the wollatilly!'
The latter observation was addressed to the boy in gray, who, having handed over the fly to the care of the street-keeper, had come back to see what all the noise was about. Between the boy in gray, and Mr. Bob Sawyer, and Mr. Benjamin Allen (who having frightened his aunt into a fainting fit, was affectionately solicitous for her recovery) the old lady was at length restored to consciousness; then Mr. Ben Allen, turning with a puzzled countenance to Mr. Pickwick, asked him what he was about to say, when he had been so alarmingly interrupted.
'We are all friends here, I presume?' said Mr. Pickwick, clearing his voice, and looking towards the man of few words with the surly countenance, who drove the fly with the chubby horse.
This reminded Mr. Bob Sawyer that the boy in gray was looking on, with eyes wide open, and greedy ears. The incipient chemist having been lifted up by his coat collar, and dropped outside the door, Bob Sawyer assured Mr. Pickwick that he might speak without reserve.
'Your sister, my dear Sir,' said Mr. Pickwick, turning to Benjamin Allen, 'is in London; well and happy.'
'Her happiness is no object to me, sir,' said Benjamin Allen, with a flourish of the hand.
'Her husband IS an object to ME, Sir,' said Bob Sawyer. 'He shall be an object to me, sir, at twelve paces, and a pretty object I'll make of him, sir — a mean-spirited scoundrel!' This, as it stood, was a very pretty denunciation, and magnanimous withal; but Mr. Bob Sawyer rather weakened its effect, by winding up with some general observations concerning the punching of heads and knocking out of eyes, which were commonplace by comparison.
'Stay, sir,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'before you apply those epithets to the gentleman in question, consider, dispassionately, the extent of his fault, and above all remember that he is a friend of mine.'
'What!' said Mr. Bob Sawyer. 'His name!' cried Ben Allen. 'His name!'
'Mr. Nathaniel Winkle,' said Mr. Pickwick.
Mr. Benjamin Allen deliberately crushed his spectacles beneath the heel of his boot, and having picked up the pieces, and put them into three separate pockets, folded his arms, bit his lips, and looked in a threatening manner at the bland features of Mr. Pickwick.
'Then it's you, is it, Sir, who have encouraged and brought about this match?' inquired Mr. Benjamin Allen at length.