CHAPTER L. HOW Mr. PICKWICK SPED UPON HIS MISSION, AND HOW HE WAS REINFORCED IN THE OUTSET BY A MOST UNEXPECTED AUXILIARY
The horses were put to, punctually at a quarter before nine next morning, and Mr. Pickwick and Sam Weller having each taken his seat, the one inside and the other out, the postillion was duly directed to repair in the first instance to Mr. Bob Sawyer's house, for the purpose of taking up Mr. Benjamin Allen.
It was with feelings of no small astonishment, when the carriage drew up before the door with the red lamp, and the very legible inscription of 'Sawyer, late Nockemorf,' that Mr. Pickwick saw, on popping his head out of the coach window, the boy in the gray livery very busily employed in putting up the shutters — the which, being an unusual and an unbusinesslike proceeding at that hour of the morning, at once suggested to his mind two inferences: the one, that some good friend and patient of Mr. Bob Sawyer's was dead; the other, that Mr. Bob Sawyer himself was bankrupt.
'What is the matter?' said Mr. Pickwick to the boy.
'Nothing's the matter, Sir,' replied the boy, expanding his mouth to the whole breadth of his countenance.
'All right, all right!' cried Bob Sawyer, suddenly appearing at the door, with a small leathern knapsack, limp and dirty, in one hand, and a rough coat and shawl thrown over the other arm. 'I'm going, old fellow.'
'You!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick.
'Yes,' replied Bob Sawyer, 'and a regular expedition we'll make of it. Here, Sam! Look out!' Thus briefly bespeaking Mr. Weller's attention, Mr. Bob Sawyer jerked the leathern knapsack into the dickey, where it was immediately stowed away, under the seat, by Sam, who regarded the proceeding with great admiration. This done, Mr. Bob Sawyer, with the assistance of the boy, forcibly worked himself into the rough coat, which was a few sizes too small for him, and then advancing to the coach window, thrust in his head, and laughed boisterously. 'What a start it is, isn't it?' cried Bob, wiping the tears out of his eyes, with one of the cuffs of the rough coat.
'My dear Sir,' said Mr. Pickwick, with some embarrassment, 'I had no idea of your accompanying us.'
'No, that's just the very thing,' replied Bob, seizing Mr. Pickwick by the lappel of his coat. 'That's the joke.'
'Oh, that's the joke, is it?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Of course,' replied Bob. 'It's the whole point of the thing, you know — that, and leaving the business to take care of itself, as it seems to have made up its mind not to take care of me.' With this explanation of the phenomenon of the shutters, Mr. Bob Sawyer pointed to the shop, and relapsed into an ecstasy of mirth.
'Bless me, you are surely not mad enough to think of leaving your patients without anybody to attend them!' remonstrated Mr. Pickwick in a very serious tone.
'Why not?' asked Bob, in reply. 'I shall save by it, you know. None of them ever pay. Besides,' said Bob, lowering his voice to a confidential whisper, 'they will be all the better for it; for, being nearly out of drugs, and not able to increase my account just now, I should have been obliged to give them calomel all round, and it would have been certain to have disagreed with some of them. So it's all for the best.'
There was a philosophy and a strength of reasoning about this reply, which Mr. Pickwick was not prepared for. He paused a few moments, and added, less firmly than before —
'But this chaise, my young friend, will only hold two; and I am pledged to Mr. Allen.'
'Don't think of me for a minute,' replied Bob. 'I've arranged it all; Sam and I will share the dickey between us. Look here. This little bill is to be wafered on the shop door: "Sawyer, late Nockemorf. Inquire of Mrs. Cripps over the way." Mrs. Cripps is my boy's mother. "Mr. Sawyer's very sorry," says Mrs. Cripps, "couldn't help it — fetched away early this morning to a consultation of the very first surgeons in the country — couldn't do without him — would have him at any price — tremendous operation." The fact is,' said Bob, in conclusion, 'it'll do me more good than otherwise, I expect. If it gets into one of the local papers, it will be the making of me. Here's Ben; now then, jump in!'
With these hurried words, Mr. Bob Sawyer pushed the postboy on one side, jerked his friend into the vehicle, slammed the door, put up the steps, wafered the bill on the street door, locked it, put the key in his pocket, jumped into the dickey, gave the word for starting, and did the whole with such extraordinary precipitation, that before Mr. Pickwick had well begun to consider whether Mr. Bob Sawyer ought to go or not, they were rolling away, with Mr. Bob Sawyer thoroughly established as part and parcel of the equipage.
So long as their progress was confined to the streets of Bristol, the facetious Bob kept his professional green spectacles on, and conducted himself with becoming steadiness and gravity of demeanour; merely giving utterance to divers verbal witticisms for the exclusive behoof and entertainment of Mr. Samuel Weller. But when they emerged on the open road, he threw off his green spectacles and his gravity together, and performed a great variety of practical jokes, which were calculated to attract the attention of the passersby, and to render the carriage and those it contained objects of more than ordinary curiosity; the least conspicuous among these feats being a most vociferous imitation of a key-bugle, and the ostentatious display of a crimson silk pocket-handkerchief attached to a walking-stick, which was occasionally waved in the air with various gestures indicative of supremacy and defiance.
'I wonder,' said Mr. Pickwick, stopping in the midst of a most sedate conversation with Ben Allen, bearing reference to the numerous good qualities of Mr. Winkle and his sister — 'I wonder what all the people we pass, can see in us to make them stare so.'
'It's a neat turn-out,' replied Ben Allen, with something of pride in his tone. 'They're not used to see this sort of thing, every day, I dare say.'
'Possibly,' replied Mr. Pickwick. 'It may be so. Perhaps it is.'
Mr. Pickwick might very probably have reasoned himself into the belief that it really was, had he not, just then happening to look out of the coach window, observed that the looks of the passengers betokened anything but respectful astonishment, and that various telegraphic communications appeared to be passing between them and some persons outside the vehicle, whereupon it occurred to him that these demonstrations might be, in some remote degree, referable to the humorous deportment of Mr. Robert Sawyer.
'I hope,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'that our volatile friend is committing no absurdities in that dickey behind.'
'Oh dear, no,' replied Ben Allen. 'Except when he's elevated, Bob's the quietest creature breathing.'
Here a prolonged imitation of a key-bugle broke upon the ear, succeeded by cheers and screams, all of which evidently proceeded from the throat and lungs of the quietest creature breathing, or in plainer designation, of Mr. Bob Sawyer himself.
Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Ben Allen looked expressively at each other, and the former gentleman taking off his hat, and leaning out of the coach window until nearly the whole of his waistcoat was outside it, was at length enabled to catch a glimpse of his facetious friend.
Mr. Bob Sawyer was seated, not in the dickey, but on the roof of the chaise, with his legs as far asunder as they would conveniently go, wearing Mr. Samuel Weller's hat on one side of his head, and bearing, in one hand, a most enormous sandwich, while, in the other, he supported a goodly-sized case-bottle, to both of which he applied himself with intense relish, varying the monotony of the occupation by an occasional howl, or the interchange of some lively badinage with any passing stranger. The crimson flag was carefully tied in an erect position to the rail of the dickey; and Mr. Samuel Weller, decorated with Bob Sawyer's hat, was seated in the centre thereof, discussing a twin sandwich, with an animated countenance, the expression of which betokened his entire and perfect approval of the whole arrangement.
This was enough to irritate a gentleman with Mr. Pickwick's sense of propriety, but it was not the whole extent of the aggravation, for a stage-coach full, inside and out, was meeting them at the moment, and the astonishment of the passengers was very palpably evinced. The congratulations of an Irish family, too, who were keeping up with the chaise, and begging all the time, were of rather a boisterous description, especially those of its male head, who appeared to consider the display as part and parcel of some political or other procession of triumph.
'Mr. Sawyer!' cried Mr. Pickwick, in a state of great excitement, 'Mr. Sawyer, Sir!'
'Hollo!' responded that gentleman, looking over the side of the chaise with all the coolness in life.
'Are you mad, sir?' demanded Mr. Pickwick.
'Not a bit of it,' replied Bob; 'only cheerful.'
'Cheerful, sir!' ejaculated Mr. Pickwick. 'Take down that scandalous red handkerchief, I beg. I insist, Sir. Sam, take it down.'
Before Sam could interpose, Mr. Bob Sawyer gracefully struck his colours, and having put them in his pocket, nodded in a courteous manner to Mr. Pickwick, wiped the mouth of the case-bottle, and applied it to his own, thereby informing him, without any unnecessary waste of words, that he devoted that draught to wishing him all manner of happiness and prosperity. Having done this, Bob replaced the cork with great care, and looking benignantly down on Mr. Pickwick, took a large bite out of the sandwich, and smiled.
'Come,' said Mr. Pickwick, whose momentary anger was not quite proof against Bob's immovable self-possession, 'pray let us have no more of this absurdity.'
'No, no,' replied Bob, once more exchanging hats with Mr. Weller; 'I didn't mean to do it, only I got so enlivened with the ride that I couldn't help it.'
'Think of the look of the thing,' expostulated Mr. Pickwick; 'have some regard to appearances.'
'Oh, certainly,' said Bob, 'it's not the sort of thing at all. All over, governor.'
Satisfied with this assurance, Mr. Pickwick once more drew his head into the chaise and pulled up the glass; but he had scarcely resumed the conversation which Mr. Bob Sawyer had interrupted, when he was somewhat startled by the apparition of a small dark body, of an oblong form, on the outside of the window, which gave sundry taps against it, as if impatient of admission.
'What's this?'exclaimed Mr. Pickwick.