CHAPTER VII. HOW Mr. WINKLE, INSTEAD OF SHOOTING AT THE PIGEON AND KILLING THE CROW, SHOT AT THE CROW AND WOUNDED THE PIGEON; HOW THE DINGLEY DELL CRICKET CLUB PLAYED ALL-MUGGLETON, AND HOW ALL-MUGGLETON DINED AT THE DINGLEY DELL EXPENSE; WITH OTHER INTERESTING AND INSTRUCTIVE MATTERS
The fatiguing adventures of the day or the somniferous influence of the clergyman's tale operated so strongly on the drowsy tendencies of Mr. Pickwick, that in less than five minutes after he had been shown to his comfortable bedroom he fell into a sound and dreamless sleep, from which he was only awakened by the morning sun darting his bright beams reproachfully into the apartment. Mr. Pickwick was no sluggard, and he sprang like an ardent warrior from his tent-bedstead.
'Pleasant, pleasant country,' sighed the enthusiastic gentleman, as he opened his lattice window. 'Who could live to gaze from day to day on bricks and slates who had once felt the influence of a scene like this? Who could continue to exist where there are no cows but the cows on the chimney-pots; nothing redolent of Pan but pan-tiles; no crop but stone crop? Who could bear to drag out a life in such a spot? Who, I ask, could endure it?' and, having cross-examined solitude after the most approved precedents, at considerable length, Mr. Pickwick thrust his head out of the lattice and looked around him.
The rich, sweet smell of the hay-ricks rose to his chamber window; the hundred perfumes of the little flower-garden beneath scented the air around; the deep-green meadows shone in the morning dew that glistened on every leaf as it trembled in the gentle air; and the birds sang as if every sparkling drop were to them a fountain of inspiration. Mr. Pickwick fell into an enchanting and delicious reverie.
'Hollo!' was the sound that roused him.
He looked to the right, but he saw nobody; his eyes wandered to the left, and pierced the prospect; he stared into the sky, but he wasn't wanted there; and then he did what a common mind would have done at once — looked into the garden, and there saw Mr. Wardle. 'How are you?' said the good-humoured individual, out of breath with his own anticipations of pleasure.'Beautiful morning, ain't it? Glad to see you up so early. Make haste down, and come out. I'll wait for you here.' Mr. Pickwick needed no second invitation. Ten minutes sufficed for the completion of his toilet, and at the expiration of that time he was by the old gentleman's side.
'Hollo!' said Mr. Pickwick in his turn, seeing that his companion was armed with a gun, and that another lay ready on the grass; 'what's going forward?'
'Why, your friend and I,' replied the host, 'are going out rook-shooting before breakfast. He's a very good shot, ain't he?'
'I've heard him say he's a capital one,' replied Mr. Pickwick, 'but I never saw him aim at anything.'
'Well,' said the host, 'I wish he'd come. Joe — Joe!'
The fat boy, who under the exciting influence of the morning did not appear to be more than three parts and a fraction asleep, emerged from the house.
'Go up, and call the gentleman, and tell him he'll find me and Mr. Pickwick in the rookery. Show the gentleman the way there; d'ye hear?'
The boy departed to execute his commission; and the host, carrying both guns like a second Robinson Crusoe, led the way from the garden.
'This is the place,' said the old gentleman, pausing after a few minutes walking, in an avenue of trees. The information was unnecessary; for the incessant cawing of the unconscious rooks sufficiently indicated their whereabouts.
The old gentleman laid one gun on the ground, and loaded the other.
'Here they are,' said Mr. Pickwick; and, as he spoke, the forms of Mr. Tupman, Mr. Snodgrass, and Mr. Winkle appeared in the distance. The fat boy, not being quite certain which gentleman he was directed to call, had with peculiar sagacity, and to prevent the possibility of any mistake, called them all.
'Come along,' shouted the old gentleman, addressing Mr. Winkle; 'a keen hand like you ought to have been up long ago, even to such poor work as this.'
Mr. Winkle responded with a forced smile, and took up the spare gun with an expression of countenance which a metaphysical rook, impressed with a foreboding of his approaching death by violence, may be supposed to assume. It might have been keenness, but it looked remarkably like misery. The old gentleman nodded; and two ragged boys who had been marshalled to the spot under the direction of the infant Lambert, forthwith commenced climbing up two of the trees. 'What are these lads for?' inquired Mr. Pickwick abruptly. He was rather alarmed; for he was not quite certain but that the distress of the agricultural interest, about which he had often heard a great deal, might have compelled the small boys attached to the soil to earn a precarious and hazardous subsistence by making marks of themselves for inexperienced sportsmen. 'Only to start the game,' replied Mr. Wardle, laughing.
'To what?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'Why, in plain English, to frighten the rooks.'
'Oh, is that all?'
'You are satisfied?'
'Very well. Shall I begin?'
'If you please,' said Mr. Winkle, glad of any respite.
'Stand aside, then. Now for it.'
The boy shouted, and shook a branch with a nest on it. Half a dozen young rooks in violent conversation, flew out to ask what the matter was. The old gentleman fired by way of reply. Down fell one bird, and off flew the others.
'Take him up, Joe,' said the old gentleman.
There was a smile upon the youth's face as he advanced. Indistinct visions of rook-pie floated through his imagination. He laughed as he retired with the bird — it was a plump one.
'Now, Mr. Winkle,' said the host, reloading his own gun. 'Fire away.'
Mr. Winkle advanced, and levelled his gun. Mr. Pickwick and his friends cowered involuntarily to escape damage from the heavy fall of rooks, which they felt quite certain would be occasioned by the devastating barrel of their friend. There was a solemn pause — a shout — a flapping of wings — a faint click.
'Hollo!' said the old gentleman.
'Won't it go?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'Missed fire,' said Mr. Winkle, who was very pale — probably from disappointment.
'Odd,' said the old gentleman, taking the gun. 'Never knew one of them miss fire before. Why, I don't see anything of the cap.' 'Bless my soul!' said Mr. Winkle, 'I declare I forgot the cap!'
The slight omission was rectified. Mr. Pickwick crouched again. Mr. Winkle stepped forward with an air of determination and resolution; and Mr. Tupman looked out from behind a tree. The boy shouted; four birds flew out. Mr. Winkle fired. There was a scream as of an individual — not a rook — in corporal anguish. Mr. Tupman had saved the lives of innumerable unoffending birds by receiving a portion of the charge in his left arm.
To describe the confusion that ensued would be impossible. To tell how Mr. Pickwick in the first transports of emotion called Mr. Winkle 'Wretch!' how Mr. Tupman lay prostrate on the ground; and how Mr. Winkle knelt horror-stricken beside him; how Mr. Tupman called distractedly upon some feminine Christian name, and then opened first one eye, and then the other, and then fell back and shut them both — all this would be as difficult to describe in detail, as it would be to depict the gradual recovering of the unfortunate individual, the binding up of his arm with pocket-handkerchiefs, and the conveying him back by slow degrees supported by the arms of his anxious friends.
They drew near the house. The ladies were at the garden gate, waiting for their arrival and their breakfast. The spinster aunt appeared; she smiled, and beckoned them to walk quicker. 'Twas evident she knew not of the disaster. Poor thing! there are times when ignorance is bliss indeed.
They approached nearer.
'Why, what is the matter with the little old gentleman?' said Isabella Wardle. The spinster aunt heeded not the remark; she thought it applied to Mr. Pickwick. In her eyes Tracy Tupman was a youth; she viewed his years through a diminishing glass.
'Don't be frightened,' called out the old host, fearful of alarming his daughters. The little party had crowded so completely round Mr. Tupman, that they could not yet clearly discern the nature of the accident.
'Don't be frightened,' said the host.
'What's the matter?' screamed the ladies.
'Mr. Tupman has met with a little accident; that's all.'
The spinster aunt uttered a piercing scream, burst into an hysteric laugh, and fell backwards in the arms of her nieces.
'Throw some cold water over her,' said the old gentleman.
'No, no,' murmured the spinster aunt; 'I am better now. Bella, Emily — a surgeon! Is he wounded? — Is he dead? — Is he — Ha, ha, ha!' Here the spinster aunt burst into fit number two, of hysteric laughter interspersed with screams.
'Calm yourself,' said Mr. Tupman, affected almost to tears by this expression of sympathy with his sufferings. 'Dear, dear madam, calm yourself.'
'It is his voice!' exclaimed the spinster aunt; and strong symptoms of fit number three developed themselves forthwith.
'Do not agitate yourself, I entreat you, dearest madam,' said Mr. Tupman soothingly. 'I am very little hurt, I assure you.'