CHAPTER V. A SHORT ONE — SHOWING, AMONG OTHER MATTERS, HOW Mr. PICKWICK UNDERTOOK TO DRIVE, AND Mr. WINKLE TO RIDE, AND HOW THEY BOTH DID IT
Bright and pleasant was the sky, balmy the air, and beautiful the appearance of every object around, as Mr. Pickwick leaned over the balustrades of Rochester Bridge, contemplating nature, and waiting for breakfast. The scene was indeed one which might well have charmed a far less reflective mind, than that to which it was presented.
On the left of the spectator lay the ruined wall, broken in many places, and in some, overhanging the narrow beach below in rude and heavy masses. Huge knots of seaweed hung upon the jagged and pointed stones, trembling in every breath of wind; and the green ivy clung mournfully round the dark and ruined battlements. Behind it rose the ancient castle, its towers roofless, and its massive walls crumbling away, but telling us proudly of its old might and strength, as when, seven hundred years ago, it rang with the clash of arms, or resounded with the noise of feasting and revelry. On either side, the banks of the Medway, covered with cornfields and pastures, with here and there a windmill, or a distant church, stretched away as far as the eye could see, presenting a rich and varied landscape, rendered more beautiful by the changing shadows which passed swiftly across it as the thin and half-formed clouds skimmed away in the light of the morning sun. The river, reflecting the clear blue of the sky, glistened and sparkled as it flowed noiselessly on; and the oars of the fishermen dipped into the water with a clear and liquid sound, as their heavy but picturesque boats glided slowly down the stream.
Mr. Pickwick was roused from the agreeable reverie into which he had been led by the objects before him, by a deep sigh, and a touch on his shoulder. He turned round: and the dismal man was at his side.
'Contemplating the scene?' inquired the dismal man. 'I was,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'And congratulating yourself on being up so soon?'
Mr. Pickwick nodded assent.
'Ah! people need to rise early, to see the sun in all his splendour, for his brightness seldom lasts the day through. The morning of day and the morning of life are but too much alike.'
'You speak truly, sir,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'How common the saying,' continued the dismal man, '"The morning's too fine to last." How well might it be applied to our everyday existence. God! what would I forfeit to have the days of my childhood restored, or to be able to forget them for ever!'
'You have seen much trouble, sir,' said Mr. Pickwick compassionately.
'I have,' said the dismal man hurriedly; 'I have. More than those who see me now would believe possible.' He paused for an instant, and then said abruptly —
'Did it ever strike you, on such a morning as this, that drowning would be happiness and peace?'
'God bless me, no!' replied Mr. Pickwick, edging a little from the balustrade, as the possibility of the dismal man's tipping him over, by way of experiment, occurred to him rather forcibly.
'I have thought so, often,' said the dismal man, without noticing the action. 'The calm, cool water seems to me to murmur an invitation to repose and rest. A bound, a splash, a brief struggle; there is an eddy for an instant, it gradually subsides into a gentle ripple; the waters have closed above your head, and the world has closed upon your miseries and misfortunes for ever.' The sunken eye of the dismal man flashed brightly as he spoke, but the momentary excitement quickly subsided; and he turned calmly away, as he said —
'There — enough of that. I wish to see you on another subject. You invited me to read that paper, the night before last, and listened attentively while I did so.' 'I did,' replied Mr. Pickwick; 'and I certainly thought — '
'I asked for no opinion,' said the dismal man, interrupting him, 'and I want none. You are travelling for amusement and instruction. Suppose I forward you a curious manuscript — observe, not curious because wild or improbable, but curious as a leaf from the romance of real life — would you communicate it to the club, of which you have spoken so frequently?'
'Certainly,' replied Mr. Pickwick, 'if you wished it; and it would be entered on their transactions.' 'You shall have it,' replied the dismal man. 'Your address;' and, Mr. Pickwick having communicated their probable route, the dismal man carefully noted it down in a greasy pocket-book, and, resisting Mr. Pickwick's pressing invitation to breakfast, left that gentleman at his inn, and walked slowly away.
Mr. Pickwick found that his three companions had risen, and were waiting his arrival to commence breakfast, which was ready laid in tempting display. They sat down to the meal; and broiled ham, eggs, tea, coffee and sundries, began to disappear with a rapidity which at once bore testimony to the excellence of the fare, and the appetites of its consumers.
'Now, about Manor Farm,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'How shall we go?'
'We had better consult the waiter, perhaps,' said Mr. Tupman; and the waiter was summoned accordingly.
'Dingley Dell, gentlemen — fifteen miles, gentlemen — cross road — post-chaise, sir?'
'Post-chaise won't hold more than two,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'True, sir — beg your pardon, sir. — Very nice four-wheel chaise, sir — seat for two behind — one in front for the gentleman that drives — oh! beg your pardon, sir — that'll only hold three.'
'What's to be done?' said Mr. Snodgrass.
'Perhaps one of the gentlemen would like to ride, sir?' suggested the waiter, looking towards Mr. Winkle; 'very good saddle-horses, sir — any of Mr. Wardle's men coming to Rochester, bring 'em back, Sir.'
'The very thing,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'Winkle, will you go on horseback?'
Now Mr. Winkle did entertain considerable misgivings in the very lowest recesses of his own heart, relative to his equestrian skill; but, as he would not have them even suspected, on any account, he at once replied with great hardihood, 'Certainly. I should enjoy it of all things.' Mr. Winkle had rushed upon his fate; there was no resource. 'Let them be at the door by eleven,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Very well, sir,' replied the waiter.
The waiter retired; the breakfast concluded; and the travellers ascended to their respective bedrooms, to prepare a change of clothing, to take with them on their approaching expedition.
Mr. Pickwick had made his preliminary arrangements, and was looking over the coffee-room blinds at the passengers in the street, when the waiter entered, and announced that the chaise was ready — an announcement which the vehicle itself confirmed, by forthwith appearing before the coffee-room blinds aforesaid.
It was a curious little green box on four wheels, with a low place like a wine-bin for two behind, and an elevated perch for one in front, drawn by an immense brown horse, displaying great symmetry of bone. An hostler stood near, holding by the bridle another immense horse — apparently a near relative of the animal in the chaise — ready saddled for Mr. Winkle.
'Bless my soul!' said Mr. Pickwick, as they stood upon the pavement while the coats were being put in. 'Bless my soul! who's to drive? I never thought of that.'
'Oh! you, of course,' said Mr. Tupman.
'Of course,' said Mr. Snodgrass.
'I!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick.
'Not the slightest fear, Sir,' interposed the hostler. 'Warrant him quiet, Sir; a hinfant in arms might drive him.'
'He don't shy, does he?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'Shy, sir?-he wouldn't shy if he was to meet a vagin-load of monkeys with their tails burned off.'
The last recommendation was indisputable. Mr. Tupman and Mr. Snodgrass got into the bin; Mr. Pickwick ascended to his perch, and deposited his feet on a floor-clothed shelf, erected beneath it for that purpose.
'Now, shiny Villiam,' said the hostler to the deputy hostler, 'give the gen'lm'n the ribbons.' 'Shiny Villiam' — so called, probably, from his sleek hair and oily countenance — placed the reins in Mr. Pickwick's left hand; and the upper hostler thrust a whip into his right.
'Wo-o!' cried Mr. Pickwick, as the tall quadruped evinced a decided inclination to back into the coffee-room window. 'Wo-o!' echoed Mr. Tupman and Mr. Snodgrass, from the bin. 'Only his playfulness, gen'lm'n,' said the head hostler encouragingly; 'jist kitch hold on him, Villiam.' The deputy restrained the animal's impetuosity, and the principal ran to assist Mr. Winkle in mounting.
'T'other side, sir, if you please.'
'Blowed if the gen'lm'n worn't a-gettin' up on the wrong side,' whispered a grinning post-boy to the inexpressibly gratified waiter.
Mr. Winkle, thus instructed, climbed into his saddle, with about as much difficulty as he would have experienced in getting up the side of a first-rate man-of-war.
'All right?' inquired Mr. Pickwick, with an inward presentiment that it was all wrong.
'All right,' replied Mr. Winkle faintly.
'Let 'em go,' cried the hostler. — 'Hold him in, sir;' and away went the chaise, and the saddle-horse, with Mr. Pickwick on the box of the one, and Mr. Winkle on the back of the other, to the delight and gratification of the whole inn-yard.
'What makes him go sideways?' said Mr. Snodgrass in the bin, to Mr. Winkle in the saddle.