'Hurrah!' echoed Mr. Pickwick, taking off his hat and dashing it on the floor, and insanely casting his spectacles into the middle of the kitchen. At this humorous feat he laughed outright.
'Let's — have — 'nother — bottle,'cried Mr. Winkle, commencing in a very loud key, and ending in a very faint one. His head dropped upon his breast; and, muttering his invincible determination not to go to his bed, and a sanguinary regret that he had not 'done for old Tupman' in the morning, he fell fast asleep; in which condition he was borne to his apartment by two young giants under the personal superintendence of the fat boy, to whose protecting care Mr. Snodgrass shortly afterwards confided his own person, Mr. Pickwick accepted the proffered arm of Mr. Tupman and quietly disappeared, smiling more than ever; and Mr. Wardle, after taking as affectionate a leave of the whole family as if he were ordered for immediate execution, consigned to Mr. Trundle the honour of conveying him upstairs, and retired, with a very futile attempt to look impressively solemn and dignified. 'What a shocking scene!' said the spinster aunt.
'Dis-gusting!' ejaculated both the young ladies.
'Dreadful — dreadful!' said Jingle, looking very grave: he was about a bottle and a half ahead of any of his companions. 'Horrid spectacle — very!'
'What a nice man!' whispered the spinster aunt to Mr. Tupman.
'Good-looking, too!' whispered Emily Wardle.
'Oh, decidedly,' observed the spinster aunt.
Mr. Tupman thought of the widow at Rochester, and his mind was troubled. The succeeding half-hour's conversation was not of a nature to calm his perturbed spirit. The new visitor was very talkative, and the number of his anecdotes was only to be exceeded by the extent of his politeness. Mr. Tupman felt that as Jingle's popularity increased, he (Tupman) retired further into the shade. His laughter was forced — his merriment feigned; and when at last he laid his aching temples between the sheets, he thought, with horrid delight, on the satisfaction it would afford him to have Jingle's head at that moment between the feather bed and the mattress.
The indefatigable stranger rose betimes next morning, and, although his companions remained in bed overpowered with the dissipation of the previous night, exerted himself most successfully to promote the hilarity of the breakfast-table. So successful were his efforts, that even the deaf old lady insisted on having one or two of his best jokes retailed through the trumpet; and even she condescended to observe to the spinster aunt, that 'He' (meaning Jingle) 'was an impudent young fellow:' a sentiment in which all her relations then and there present thoroughly coincided.
It was the old lady's habit on the fine summer mornings to repair to the arbour in which Mr. Tupman had already signalised himself, in form and manner following: first, the fat boy fetched from a peg behind the old lady's bedroom door, a close black satin bonnet, a warm cotton shawl, and a thick stick with a capacious handle; and the old lady, having put on the bonnet and shawl at her leisure, would lean one hand on the stick and the other on the fat boy's shoulder, and walk leisurely to the arbour, where the fat boy would leave her to enjoy the fresh air for the space of half an hour; at the expiration of which time he would return and reconduct her to the house.
The old lady was very precise and very particular; and as this ceremony had been observed for three successive summers without the slightest deviation from the accustomed form, she was not a little surprised on this particular morning to see the fat boy, instead of leaving the arbour, walk a few paces out of it, look carefully round him in every direction, and return towards her with great stealth and an air of the most profound mystery.
The old lady was timorous — most old ladies are — and her first impression was that the bloated lad was about to do her some grievous bodily harm with the view of possessing himself of her loose coin. She would have cried for assistance, but age and infirmity had long ago deprived her of the power of screaming; she, therefore, watched his motions with feelings of intense horror which were in no degree diminished by his coming close up to her, and shouting in her ear in an agitated, and as it seemed to her, a threatening tone —
Now it so happened that Mr. Jingle was walking in the garden close to the arbour at that moment. He too heard the shouts of 'Missus,' and stopped to hear more. There were three reasons for his doing so. In the first place, he was idle and curious; secondly, he was by no means scrupulous; thirdly, and lastly, he was concealed from view by some flowering shrubs. So there he stood, and there he listened.
'Missus!' shouted the fat boy.
'Well, Joe,' said the trembling old lady. 'I'm sure I have been a good mistress to you, Joe. You have invariably been treated very kindly. You have never had too much to do; and you have always had enough to eat.'
This last was an appeal to the fat boy's most sensitive feelings. He seemed touched, as he replied emphatically — 'I knows I has.'
'Then what can you want to do now?' said the old lady, gaining courage.
'I wants to make your flesh creep,' replied the boy.
This sounded like a very bloodthirsty mode of showing one's gratitude; and as the old lady did not precisely understand the process by which such a result was to be attained, all her former horrors returned.
'What do you think I see in this very arbour last night?' inquired the boy.
'Bless us! What?' exclaimed the old lady, alarmed at the solemn manner of the corpulent youth.
'The strange gentleman — him as had his arm hurt — a-kissin' and huggin' — '
'Who, Joe? None of the servants, I hope.' 'Worser than that,' roared the fat boy, in the old lady's ear.
'Not one of my grandda'aters?'
'Worser than that.'
'Worse than that, Joe!' said the old lady, who had thought this the extreme limit of human atrocity. 'Who was it, Joe? I insist upon knowing.'
The fat boy looked cautiously round, and having concluded his survey, shouted in the old lady's ear —
'What!' said the old lady, in a shrill tone. 'Speak louder.'
'Miss Rachael,' roared the fat boy.
The train of nods which the fat boy gave by way of assent, communicated a blanc-mange like motion to his fat cheeks.
'And she suffered him!' exclaimed the old lady. A grin stole over the fat boy's features as he said —
'I see her a-kissin' of him agin.'
If Mr. Jingle, from his place of concealment, could have beheld the expression which the old lady's face assumed at this communication, the probability is that a sudden burst of laughter would have betrayed his close vicinity to the summer-house. He listened attentively. Fragments of angry sentences such as, 'Without my permission!' — 'At her time of life' — 'Miserable old 'ooman like me' — 'Might have waited till I was dead,' and so forth, reached his ears; and then he heard the heels of the fat boy's boots crunching the gravel, as he retired and left the old lady alone.
It was a remarkable coincidence perhaps, but it was nevertheless a fact, that Mr. Jingle within five minutes of his arrival at Manor Farm on the preceding night, had inwardly resolved to lay siege to the heart of the spinster aunt, without delay. He had observation enough to see, that his off-hand manner was by no means disagreeable to the fair object of his attack; and he had more than a strong suspicion that she possessed that most desirable of all requisites, a small independence. The imperative necessity of ousting his rival by some means or other, flashed quickly upon him, and he immediately resolved to adopt certain proceedings tending to that end and object, without a moment's delay. Fielding tells us that man is fire, and woman tow, and the Prince of Darkness sets a light to 'em. Mr. Jingle knew that young men, to spinster aunts, are as lighted gas to gunpowder, and he determined to essay the effect of an explosion without loss of time.
Full of reflections upon this important decision, he crept from his place of concealment, and, under cover of the shrubs before mentioned, approached the house. Fortune seemed determined to favour his design. Mr. Tupman and the rest of the gentlemen left the garden by the side gate just as he obtained a view of it; and the young ladies, he knew, had walked out alone, soon after breakfast. The coast was clear.
The breakfast-parlour door was partially open. He peeped in. The spinster aunt was knitting. He coughed; she looked up and smiled. Hesitation formed no part of Mr. Alfred Jingle's character. He laid his finger on his lips mysteriously, walked in, and closed the door.
'Miss Wardle,' said Mr. Jingle, with affected earnestness, 'forgive intrusion — short acquaintance — no time for ceremony — all discovered.'
'Sir!' said the spinster aunt, rather astonished by the unexpected apparition and somewhat doubtful of Mr. Jingle's sanity.
'Hush!' said Mr. Jingle, in a stage-whisper — 'Large boy — dumpling face — round eyes — rascal!' Here he shook his head expressively, and the spinster aunt trembled with agitation.
'I presume you allude to Joseph, Sir?' said the lady, making an effort to appear composed.
'Yes, ma'am — damn that Joe! — treacherous dog, Joe — told the old lady — old lady furious — wild — raving — arbour — Tupman — kissing and hugging — all that sort of thing — eh, ma'am — eh?'
'Mr. Jingle,' said the spinster aunt, 'if you come here, Sir, to insult me — '