CHAPTER VIII. STRONGLY ILLUSTRATIVE OF THE POSITION, THAT THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE IS NOT A RAILWAY
The quiet seclusion of Dingley Dell, the presence of so many of the gentler sex, and the solicitude and anxiety they evinced in his behalf, were all favourable to the growth and development of those softer feelings which nature had implanted deep in the bosom of Mr. Tracy Tupman, and which now appeared destined to centre in one lovely object. The young ladies were pretty, their manners winning, their dispositions unexceptionable; but there was a dignity in the air, a touch-me-not-ishness in the walk, a majesty in the eye, of the spinster aunt, to which, at their time of life, they could lay no claim, which distinguished her from any female on whom Mr. Tupman had ever gazed. That there was something kindred in their nature, something congenial in their souls, something mysteriously sympathetic in their bosoms, was evident. Her name was the first that rose to Mr. Tupman's lips as he lay wounded on the grass; and her hysteric laughter was the first sound that fell upon his ear when he was supported to the house. But had her agitation arisen from an amiable and feminine sensibility which would have been equally irrepressible in any case; or had it been called forth by a more ardent and passionate feeling, which he, of all men living, could alone awaken? These were the doubts which racked his brain as he lay extended on the sofa; these were the doubts which he determined should be at once and for ever resolved.
it was evening. Isabella and Emily had strolled out with Mr. Trundle; the deaf old lady had fallen asleep in her chair; the snoring of the fat boy, penetrated in a low and monotonous sound from the distant kitchen; the buxom servants were lounging at the side door, enjoying the pleasantness of the hour, and the delights of a flirtation, on first principles, with certain unwieldy animals attached to the farm; and there sat the interesting pair, uncared for by all, caring for none, and dreaming only of themselves; there they sat, in short, like a pair of carefully-folded kid gloves — bound up in each other.
'I have forgotten my flowers,' said the spinster aunt.
'Water them now,' said Mr. Tupman, in accents of persuasion.
'You will take cold in the evening air,' urged the spinster aunt affectionately.
'No, no,' said Mr. Tupman, rising; 'it will do me good. Let me accompany you.'
The lady paused to adjust the sling in which the left arm of the youth was placed, and taking his right arm led him to the garden.
There was a bower at the farther end, with honeysuckle, jessamine, and creeping plants — one of those sweet retreats which humane men erect for the accommodation of spiders.
The spinster aunt took up a large watering-pot which lay in one corner, and was about to leave the arbour. Mr. Tupman detained her, and drew her to a seat beside him.
'Miss Wardle!' said he. The spinster aunt trembled, till some pebbles which had accidentally found their way into the large watering-pot shook like an infant's rattle.
'Miss Wardle,' said Mr. Tupman, 'you are an angel.'
'Mr. Tupman!' exclaimed Rachael, blushing as red as the watering-pot itself.
'Nay,' said the eloquent Pickwickian — 'I know it but too well.'
'All women are angels, they say,' murmured the lady playfully.
'Then what can you be; or to what, without presumption, can I compare you?' replied Mr. Tupman. 'Where was the woman ever seen who resembled you? Where else could I hope to find so rare a combination of excellence and beauty? Where else could I seek to — Oh!' Here Mr. Tupman paused, and pressed the hand which clasped the handle of the happy watering-pot.
The lady turned aside her head. 'Men are such deceivers,' she softly whispered.
'They are, they are,' ejaculated Mr. Tupman; 'but not all men. There lives at least one being who can never change — one being who would be content to devote his whole existence to your happiness — who lives but in your eyes — who breathes but in your smiles — who bears the heavy burden of life itself only for you.'
'Could such an individual be found — ' said the lady.
'But he CAN be found,' said the ardent Mr. Tupman, interposing. 'He IS found. He is here, Miss Wardle.' And ere the lady was aware of his intention, Mr. Tupman had sunk upon his knees at her feet.
'Mr. Tupman, rise,' said Rachael.
'Never!' was the valorous reply. 'Oh, Rachael!' He seized her passive hand, and the watering-pot fell to the ground as he pressed it to his lips. — 'Oh, Rachael! say you love me.'
'Mr. Tupman,' said the spinster aunt, with averted head, 'I can hardly speak the words; but — but — you are not wholly indifferent to me.'
Mr. Tupman no sooner heard this avowal, than he proceeded to do what his enthusiastic emotions prompted, and what, for aught we know (for we are but little acquainted with such matters), people so circumstanced always do. He jumped up, and, throwing his arm round the neck of the spinster aunt, imprinted upon her lips numerous kisses, which after a due show of struggling and resistance, she received so passively, that there is no telling how many more Mr. Tupman might have bestowed, if the lady had not given a very unaffected start, and exclaimed in an affrighted tone —
'Mr. Tupman, we are observed! — we are discovered!'
Mr. Tupman looked round. There was the fat boy, perfectly motionless, with his large circular eyes staring into the arbour, but without the slightest expression on his face that the most expert physiognomist could have referred to astonishment, curiosity, or any other known passion that agitates the human breast. Mr. Tupman gazed on the fat boy, and the fat boy stared at him; and the longer Mr. Tupman observed the utter vacancy of the fat boy's countenance, the more convinced he became that he either did not know, or did not understand, anything that had been going forward. Under this impression, he said with great firmness —
'What do you want here, Sir?'
'Supper's ready, sir,' was the prompt reply.
'Have you just come here, sir?' inquired Mr. Tupman, with a piercing look.
'Just,' replied the fat boy.
Mr. Tupman looked at him very hard again; but there was not a wink in his eye, or a curve in his face.
Mr. Tupman took the arm of the spinster aunt, and walked towards the house; the fat boy followed behind.
'He knows nothing of what has happened,'he whispered.
'Nothing,' said the spinster aunt.
There was a sound behind them, as of an imperfectly suppressed chuckle. Mr. Tupman turned sharply round. No; it could not have been the fat boy; there was not a gleam of mirth, or anything but feeding in his whole visage.
'He must have been fast asleep,' whispered Mr. Tupman.
'I have not the least doubt of it,' replied the spinster aunt.
They both laughed heartily.
Mr. Tupman was wrong. The fat boy, for once, had not been fast asleep. He was awake — wide awake — to what had been going forward.
The supper passed off without any attempt at a general conversation. The old lady had gone to bed; Isabella Wardle devoted herself exclusively to Mr. Trundle; the spinster's attentions were reserved for Mr. Tupman; and Emily's thoughts appeared to be engrossed by some distant object — possibly they were with the absent Snodgrass.
Eleven — twelve — one o'clock had struck, and the gentlemen had not arrived. Consternation sat on every face. Could they have been waylaid and robbed? Should they send men and lanterns in every direction by which they could be supposed likely to have travelled home? or should they — Hark! there they were. What could have made them so late? A strange voice, too! To whom could it belong? They rushed into the kitchen, whither the truants had repaired, and at once obtained rather more than a glimmering of the real state of the case.
Mr. Pickwick, with his hands in his pockets and his hat cocked completely over his left eye, was leaning against the dresser, shaking his head from side to side, and producing a constant succession of the blandest and most benevolent smiles without being moved thereunto by any discernible cause or pretence whatsoever; old Mr. Wardle, with a highly-inflamed countenance, was grasping the hand of a strange gentleman muttering protestations of eternal friendship; Mr. Winkle, supporting himself by the eight-day clock, was feebly invoking destruction upon the head of any member of the family who should suggest the propriety of his retiring for the night; and Mr. Snodgrass had sunk into a chair, with an expression of the most abject and hopeless misery that the human mind can imagine, portrayed in every lineament of his expressive face.
'Is anything the matter?' inquired the three ladies.
'Nothing the matter,' replied Mr. Pickwick. 'We — we're — all right. — I say, Wardle, we're all right, ain't we?'
'I should think so,' replied the jolly host. — 'My dears, here's my friend Mr. Jingle — Mr. Pickwick's friend, Mr. Jingle, come 'pon — little visit.'
'Is anything the matter with Mr. Snodgrass, Sir?' inquired Emily, with great anxiety.
'Nothing the matter, ma'am,' replied the stranger. 'Cricket dinner — glorious party — capital songs — old port — claret — good — very good — wine, ma'am — wine.'
'It wasn't the wine,' murmured Mr. Snodgrass, in a broken voice. 'It was the salmon.' (Somehow or other, it never is the wine, in these cases.)
'Hadn't they better go to bed, ma'am?' inquired Emma. 'Two of the boys will carry the gentlemen upstairs.'
'I won't go to bed,' said Mr. Winkle firmly.
'No living boy shall carry me,' said Mr. Pickwick stoutly; and he went on smiling as before. 'Hurrah!' gasped Mr. Winkle faintly.