'And it's this gentleman's servant, I suppose,' interrupted the old lady, 'who has been skulking about my house, and endeavouring to entrap my servants to conspire against their mistress. — Martin!'
'Well?' said the surly man, coming forward.
'Is that the young man you saw in the lane, whom you told me about, this morning?'
Mr. Martin, who, as it has already appeared, was a man of few words, looked at Sam Weller, nodded his head, and growled forth, 'That's the man.' Mr. Weller, who was never proud, gave a smile of friendly recognition as his eyes encountered those of the surly groom, and admitted in courteous terms, that he had 'knowed him afore.'
'And this is the faithful creature,' exclaimed Mr. Ben Allen, 'whom I had nearly suffocated! — Mr. Pickwick, how dare you allow your fellow to be employed in the abduction of my sister? I demand that you explain this matter, sir.'
'Explain it, sir!' cried Bob Sawyer fiercely.
'It's a conspiracy,' said Ben Allen.
'A regular plant,' added Mr. Bob Sawyer.
'A disgraceful imposition,' observed the old lady.
'Nothing but a do,' remarked Martin. 'Pray hear me,' urged Mr. Pickwick, as Mr. Ben Allen fell into a chair that patients were bled in, and gave way to his pocket-handkerchief. 'I have rendered no assistance in this matter, beyond being present at one interview between the young people which I could not prevent, and from which I conceived my presence would remove any slight colouring of impropriety that it might otherwise have had; this is the whole share I have had in the transaction, and I had no suspicion that an immediate marriage was even contemplated. Though, mind,' added Mr. Pickwick, hastily checking himself — 'mind, I do not say I should have prevented it, if I had known that it was intended.'
'You hear that, all of you; you hear that?' said Mr. Benjamin Allen.
'I hope they do,' mildly observed Mr. Pickwick, looking round, 'and,' added that gentleman, his colour mounting as he spoke, 'I hope they hear this, Sir, also. That from what has been stated to me, sir, I assert that you were by no means justified in attempting to force your sister's inclinations as you did, and that you should rather have endeavoured by your kindness and forbearance to have supplied the place of other nearer relations whom she had never known, from a child. As regards my young friend, I must beg to add, that in every point of worldly advantage he is, at least, on an equal footing with yourself, if not on a much better one, and that unless I hear this question discussed with becoming temper and moderation, I decline hearing any more said upon the subject.'
'I wish to make a wery few remarks in addition to wot has been put for'ard by the honourable gen'l'm'n as has jist give over,' said Mr. Weller, stepping forth, 'wich is this here: a indiwidual in company has called me a feller.'
'That has nothing whatever to do with the matter, Sam,' interposed Mr. Pickwick. 'Pray hold your tongue.'
'I ain't a-goin' to say nothin' on that 'ere pint, sir,' replied Sam, 'but merely this here. P'raps that gen'l'm'n may think as there wos a priory 'tachment; but there worn't nothin' o' the sort, for the young lady said in the wery beginnin' o' the keepin' company, that she couldn't abide him. Nobody's cut him out, and it 'ud ha' been jist the wery same for him if the young lady had never seen Mr. Vinkle. That's what I wished to say, sir, and I hope I've now made that 'ere gen'l'm'n's mind easy.
A short pause followed these consolatory remarks of Mr. Weller. Then Mr. Ben Allen rising from his chair, protested that he would never see Arabella's face again; while Mr. Bob Sawyer, despite Sam's flattering assurance, vowed dreadful vengeance on the happy bridegroom.
But, just when matters were at their height, and threatening to remain so, Mr. Pickwick found a powerful assistant in the old lady, who, evidently much struck by the mode in which he had advocated her niece's cause, ventured to approach Mr. Benjamin Allen with a few comforting reflections, of which the chief were, that after all, perhaps, it was well it was no worse; the least said the soonest mended, and upon her word she did not know that it was so very bad after all; what was over couldn't be begun, and what couldn't be cured must be endured; with various other assurances of the like novel and strengthening description. To all of these, Mr. Benjamin Allen replied that he meant no disrespect to his aunt, or anybody there, but if it were all the same to them, and they would allow him to have his own way, he would rather have the pleasure of hating his sister till death, and after it.
At length, when this determination had been announced half a hundred times, the old lady suddenly bridling up and looking very majestic, wished to know what she had done that no respect was to be paid to her years or station, and that she should be obliged to beg and pray, in that way, of her own nephew, whom she remembered about five-and-twenty years before he was born, and whom she had known, personally, when he hadn't a tooth in his head; to say nothing of her presence on the first occasion of his having his hair cut, and assistance at numerous other times and ceremonies during his babyhood, of sufficient importance to found a claim upon his affection, obedience, and sympathies, for ever.
While the good lady was bestowing this objurgation on Mr. Ben Allen, Bob Sawyer and Mr. Pickwick had retired in close conversation to the inner room, where Mr. Sawyer was observed to apply himself several times to the mouth of a black bottle, under the influence of which, his features gradually assumed a cheerful and even jovial expression. And at last he emerged from the room, bottle in hand, and, remarking that he was very sorry to say he had been making a fool of himself, begged to propose the health and happiness of Mr. and Mrs. Winkle, whose felicity, so far from envying, he would be the first to congratulate them upon. Hearing this, Mr. Ben Allen suddenly arose from his chair, and, seizing the black bottle, drank the toast so heartily, that, the liquor being strong, he became nearly as black in the face as the bottle. Finally, the black bottle went round till it was empty, and there was so much shaking of hands and interchanging of compliments, that even the metal-visaged Mr. Martin condescended to smile.
'And now,' said Bob Sawyer, rubbing his hands, 'we'll have a jolly night.'
'I am sorry,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'that I must return to my inn. I have not been accustomed to fatigue lately, and my journey has tired me exceedingly.'
'You'll take some tea, Mr. Pickwick?' said the old lady, with irresistible sweetness.
'Thank you, I would rather not,' replied that gentleman. The truth is, that the old lady's evidently increasing admiration was Mr. Pickwick's principal inducement for going away. He thought of Mrs. Bardell; and every glance of the old lady's eyes threw him into a cold perspiration.
As Mr. Pickwick could by no means be prevailed upon to stay, it was arranged at once, on his own proposition, that Mr. Benjamin Allen should accompany him on his journey to the elder Mr. Winkle's, and that the coach should be at the door, at nine o'clock next morning. He then took his leave, and, followed by Samuel Weller, repaired to the Bush. It is worthy of remark, that Mr. Martin's face was horribly convulsed as he shook hands with Sam at parting, and that he gave vent to a smile and an oath simultaneously; from which tokens it has been inferred by those who were best acquainted with that gentleman's peculiarities, that he expressed himself much pleased with Mr. Weller's society, and requested the honour of his further acquaintance.
'Shall I order a private room, Sir?' inquired Sam, when they reached the Bush.
'Why, no, Sam,' replied Mr. Pickwick; 'as I dined in the coffee-room, and shall go to bed soon, it is hardly worth while. See who there is in the travellers' room, Sam.'
Mr. Weller departed on his errand, and presently returned to say that there was only a gentleman with one eye; and that he and the landlord were drinking a bowl of bishop together.
'I will join them,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'He's a queer customer, the vun-eyed vun, sir,' observed Mr. Weller, as he led the way. 'He's a-gammonin' that 'ere landlord, he is, sir, till he don't rightly know wether he's a-standing on the soles of his boots or the crown of his hat.'
The individual to whom this observation referred, was sitting at the upper end of the room when Mr. Pickwick entered, and was smoking a large Dutch pipe, with his eye intently fixed on the round face of the landlord; a jolly-looking old personage, to whom he had recently been relating some tale of wonder, as was testified by sundry disjointed exclamations of, 'Well, I wouldn't have believed it! The strangest thing I ever heard! Couldn't have supposed it possible!' and other expressions of astonishment which burst spontaneously from his lips, as he returned the fixed gaze of the one-eyed man.
'Servant, sir,' said the one-eyed man to Mr. Pickwick. 'Fine night, sir.'
'Very much so indeed,' replied Mr. Pickwick, as the waiter placed a small decanter of brandy, and some hot water before him.
While Mr. Pickwick was mixing his brandy-and-water, the one-eyed man looked round at him earnestly, from time to time, and at length said —
'I think I've seen you before.'
'I don't recollect you,' rejoined Mr. Pickwick.
'I dare say not,' said the one-eyed man. 'You didn't know me, but I knew two friends of yours that were stopping at the Peacock at Eatanswill, at the time of the election.'
'Oh, indeed!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick.
'Yes,' rejoined the one-eyed man. 'I mentioned a little circumstance to them about a friend of mine of the name of Tom Smart. Perhaps you've heard them speak of it.'
'Often,' rejoined Mr. Pickwick, smiling. 'He was your uncle, I think?'
'No, no; only a friend of my uncle's,' replied the one-eyed man.
'He was a wonderful man, that uncle of yours, though,' remarked the landlord shaking his head.
'Well, I think he was; I think I may say he was,' answered the one-eyed man. 'I could tell you a story about that same uncle, gentlemen, that would rather surprise you.'
'Could you?' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Let us hear it, by all means.'
The one-eyed bagman ladled out a glass of negus from the bowl, and drank it; smoked a long whiff out of the Dutch pipe; and then, calling to Sam Weller who was lingering near the door, that he needn't go away unless he wanted to, because the story was no secret, fixed his eye upon the landlord's, and proceeded, in the words of the next chapter.