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CHAPTER LVI AN IMPORTANT CONFERENCE TAKES PLACE BETWEEN Mr. PICKWICK AND SAMUEL WELLER, AT WHICH HIS PARENT ASSISTS - AN OLD GENTLEMAN IN A SNUFF COLOURED SUIT ARRIVES UNEXPECTEDLY
Mr. Pickwick was sitting alone, musing over many things, and thinking among other considerations how he could best provide for the young couple whose present unsettled condition was matter of constant regret and anxiety to him, when Mary stepped lightly into the room, and, advancing to the table, said, rather hastily -
'Oh, if you please, Sir, Samuel is downstairs, and he says may his father see you?'
'Surely,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
'Thank you, Sir,' said Mary, tripping towards the door again.
'Sam has not been here long, has he?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'Oh, no, Sir,' replied Mary eagerly. 'He has only just come home. He is not going to ask you for any more leave, Sir, he says.'
Mary might have been conscious that she had communicated this last intelligence with more warmth than seemed actually necessary, or she might have observed the good-humoured smile with which Mr. Pickwick regarded her, when she had finished speaking. She certainly held down her head, and examined the corner of a very smart little apron, with more closeness than there appeared any absolute occasion for.
'Tell them they can come up at once, by all means,' said Mr. Pickwick.
Mary, apparently much relieved, hurried away with her message.
Mr. Pickwick took two or three turns up and down the room; and, rubbing his chin with his left hand as he did so, appeared lost in thought.
'Well, well,' said Mr. Pickwick, at length in a kind but somewhat melancholy tone, 'it is the best way in which I could reward him for his attachment and fidelity; let it be so, in Heaven's name. It is the fate of a lonely old man, that those about him should form new and different attachments and leave him. I have no right to expect that it should be otherwise with me. No, no,' added Mr. Pickwick more cheerfully, 'it would be selfish and ungrateful. I ought to be happy to have an opportunity of providing for him so well. I am. Of course I am.'
Mr. Pickwick had been so absorbed in these reflections, that a knock at the door was three or four times repeated before he heard it. Hastily seating himself, and calling up his accustomed pleasant looks, he gave the required permission, and Sam Weller entered, followed by his father.
'Glad to see you back again, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'How do you do, Mr. Weller?'
'Wery hearty, thank'ee, sir,' replied the widower; 'hope I see you well, sir.'
'Quite, I thank you,' replied Mr. Pickwick.
'I wanted to have a little bit o' conwersation with you, sir,' said Mr. Weller, 'if you could spare me five minits or so, sir.'
'Certainly,' replied Mr. Pickwick. 'Sam, give your father a chair.'
'Thank'ee, Samivel, I've got a cheer here,' said Mr. Weller, bringing one forward as he spoke; 'uncommon fine day it's been, sir,' added the old gentleman, laying his hat on the floor as he sat himself down.
'Remarkably so, indeed,' replied Mr. Pickwick. 'Very seasonable.'
'Seasonablest veather I ever see, sir,' rejoined Mr. Weller. Here, the old gentleman was seized with a violent fit of coughing, which, being terminated, he nodded his head and winked and made several supplicatory and threatening gestures to his son, all of which Sam Weller steadily abstained from seeing.
Mr. Pickwick, perceiving that there was some embarrassment on the old gentleman's part, affected to be engaged in cutting the leaves of a book that lay beside him, and waited patiently until Mr. Weller should arrive at the object of his visit.
'I never see sich a aggrawatin' boy as you are, Samivel,' said Mr. Weller, looking indignantly at his son; 'never in all my born days.'
'What is he doing, Mr. Weller?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'He von't begin, sir,' rejoined Mr. Weller; 'he knows I ain't ekal to ex-pressin' myself ven there's anythin' partickler to be done, and yet he'll stand and see me a-settin' here taking up your walable time, and makin' a reg'lar spectacle o' myself, rayther than help me out vith a syllable. It ain't filial conduct, Samivel,' said Mr. Weller, wiping his forehead; 'wery far from it.'
'You said you'd speak,' replied Sam; 'how should I know you wos done up at the wery beginnin'?'
'You might ha' seen I warn't able to start,' rejoined his father; 'I'm on the wrong side of the road, and backin' into the palin's, and all manner of unpleasantness, and yet you von't put out a hand to help me. I'm ashamed on you, Samivel.'
'The fact is, Sir,' said Sam, with a slight bow, 'the gov'nor's been a-drawin' his money.'
'Wery good, Samivel, wery good,' said Mr. Weller, nodding his head with a satisfied air, 'I didn't mean to speak harsh to you, Sammy. Wery good. That's the vay to begin. Come to the pint at once. Wery good indeed, Samivel.'
Mr. Weller nodded his head an extraordinary number of times, in the excess of his gratification, and waited in a listening attitude for Sam to resume his statement.
'You may sit down, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, apprehending that the interview was likely to prove rather longer than he had expected.
Sam bowed again and sat down; his father looking round, he continued -
'The gov'nor, sir, has drawn out five hundred and thirty pound.'
'Reduced counsels,' interposed Mr. Weller, senior, in an undertone.
'It don't much matter vether it's reduced counsels, or wot not,' said Sam; 'five hundred and thirty pounds is the sum, ain't it?'
'All right, Samivel,' replied Mr. Weller.
'To vich sum, he has added for the house and bisness - '
'Lease, good-vill, stock, and fixters,' interposed Mr. Weller.
'As much as makes it,' continued Sam, 'altogether, eleven hundred and eighty pound.'
'Indeed!' said Mr. Pickwick. 'I am delighted to hear it. I congratulate you, Mr. Weller, on having done so well.'
'Vait a minit, Sir,' said Mr. Weller, raising his hand in a deprecatory manner. 'Get on, Samivel.'
'This here money,' said Sam, with a little hesitation, 'he's anxious to put someveres, vere he knows it'll be safe, and I'm wery anxious too, for if he keeps it, he'll go a-lendin' it to somebody, or inwestin' property in horses, or droppin' his pocket-book down an airy, or makin' a Egyptian mummy of his-self in some vay or another.'
'Wery good, Samivel,' observed Mr. Weller, in as complacent a manner as if Sam had been passing the highest eulogiums on his prudence and foresight. 'Wery good.'
'For vich reasons,' continued Sam, plucking nervously at the brim of his hat - 'for vich reasons, he's drawn it out to-day, and come here vith me to say, leastvays to offer, or in other vords - '
'To say this here,' said the elder Mr. Weller impatiently, 'that it ain't o' no use to me. I'm a-goin' to vork a coach reg'lar, and ha'n't got noveres to keep it in, unless I vos to pay the guard for takin' care on it, or to put it in vun o' the coach pockets, vich 'ud be a temptation to the insides. If you'll take care on it for me, sir, I shall be wery much obliged to you. P'raps,' said Mr. Weller, walking up to Mr. Pickwick and whispering in his ear - 'p'raps it'll go a little vay towards the expenses o' that 'ere conwiction. All I say is, just you keep it till I ask you for it again.' With these words, Mr. Weller placed the pocket-book in Mr. Pickwick's hands, caught up his hat, and ran out of the room with a celerity scarcely to be expected from so corpulent a subject.
'Stop him, Sam!' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick earnestly. 'Overtake him; bring him back instantly! Mr. Weller - here - come back!'
Sam saw that his master's injunctions were not to be disobeyed; and, catching his father by the arm as he was descending the stairs, dragged him back by main force.
'My good friend,' said Mr. Pickwick, taking the old man by the hand, 'your honest confidence overpowers me.'
'I don't see no occasion for nothin' o' the kind, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller obstinately.
'I assure you, my good friend, I have more money than I can ever need; far more than a man at my age can ever live to spend,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'No man knows how much he can spend, till he tries,' observed Mr. Weller.
'Perhaps not,' replied Mr. Pickwick; 'but as I have no intention of trying any such experiments, I am not likely to come to want. I must beg you to take this back, Mr. Weller.' 'Wery well,' said Mr. Weller, with a discontented look. 'Mark my vords, Sammy, I'll do somethin' desperate vith this here property; somethin' desperate!'
'You'd better not,' replied Sam.
Mr. Weller reflected for a short time, and then, buttoning up his coat with great determination, said -
'I'll keep a pike.'
'Wot!' exclaimed Sam.
'A pike!' rejoined Mr. Weller, through his set teeth; 'I'll keep a pike. Say good-bye to your father, Samivel. I dewote the remainder of my days to a pike.'
This threat was such an awful one, and Mr. Weller, besides appearing fully resolved to carry it into execution, seemed so deeply mortified by Mr. Pickwick's refusal, that that gentleman, after a short reflection, said -
'Well, well, Mr. Weller, I will keep your money. I can do more good with it, perhaps, than you can.'
'Just the wery thing, to be sure,' said Mr. Weller, brightening up; 'o' course you can, sir.'
'Say no more about it,' said Mr. Pickwick, locking the pocketbook in his desk; 'I am heartily obliged to you, my good friend. Now sit down again. I want to ask your advice.'
The internal laughter occasioned by the triumphant success of his visit, which had convulsed not only Mr. Weller's face, but his arms, legs, and body also, during the locking up of the pocketbook, suddenly gave place to the most dignified gravity as he heard these words.
'Wait outside a few minutes, Sam, will you?' said Mr. Pickwick.
Sam immediately withdrew.
Mr. Weller looked uncommonly wise and very much amazed, when Mr. Pickwick opened the discourse by saying -
'You are not an advocate for matrimony, I think, Mr. Weller?'
Mr. Weller shook his head. He was wholly unable to speak; vague thoughts of some wicked widow having been successful in her designs on Mr. Pickwick, choked his utterance.
'Did you happen to see a young girl downstairs when you came in just now with your son?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'Yes. I see a young gal,' replied Mr. Weller shortly.
'What did you think of her, now? Candidly, Mr. Weller, what did you think of her?'
'I thought she wos wery plump, and vell made,' said Mr. Weller, with a critical air.
'So she is,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'so she is. What did you think of her manners, from what you saw of her?'
'Wery pleasant,' rejoined Mr. Weller. 'Wery pleasant and comformable.'
The precise meaning which Mr. Weller attached to this lastmentioned adjective, did not appear; but, as it was evident from the tone in which he used it that it was a favourable expression, Mr. Pickwick was as well satisfied as if he had been thoroughly enlightened on the subject.
'I take a great interest in her, Mr. Weller,' said Mr. Pickwick.
Mr. Weller coughed.
'I mean an interest in her doing well,' resumed Mr. Pickwick; 'a desire that she may be comfortable and prosperous. You understand?'
'Wery clearly,' replied Mr. Weller, who understood nothing yet.
'That young person,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'is attached to your son.'
'To Samivel Veller!' exclaimed the parent.
'Yes,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'It's nat'ral,' said Mr. Weller, after some consideration, 'nat'ral, but rayther alarmin'. Sammy must be careful.'
'How do you mean?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'Wery careful that he don't say nothin' to her,' responded Mr. Weller. 'Wery careful that he ain't led avay, in a innocent moment, to say anythin' as may lead to a conwiction for breach. You're never safe vith 'em, Mr. Pickwick, ven they vunce has designs on you; there's no knowin' vere to have 'em; and vile you're a-considering of it, they have you. I wos married fust, that vay myself, Sir, and Sammy wos the consekens o' the manoover.'
'You give me no great encouragement to conclude what I have to say,' observed Mr. Pickwick, 'but I had better do so at once. This young person is not only attached to your son, Mr. Weller, but your son is attached to her.'
'Vell,' said Mr. Weller, 'this here's a pretty sort o' thing to come to a father's ears, this is!'
'I have observed them on several occasions,' said Mr. Pickwick, making no comment on Mr. Weller's last remark; 'and entertain no doubt at all about it. Supposing I were desirous of establishing them comfortably as man and wife in some little business or situation, where they might hope to obtain a decent living, what should you think of it, Mr. Weller?'
At first, Mr. Weller received with wry faces a proposition involving the marriage of anybody in whom he took an interest; but, as Mr. Pickwick argued the point with him, and laid great stress on the fact that Mary was not a widow, he gradually became more tractable. Mr. Pickwick had great influence over him, and he had been much struck with Mary's appearance; having, in fact, bestowed several very unfatherly winks upon her, already. At length he said that it was not for him to oppose Mr. Pickwick's inclination, and that he would be very happy to yield to his advice; upon which, Mr. Pickwick joyfully took him at his word, and called Sam back into the room.
'Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, clearing his throat, 'your father and I have been having some conversation about you.'
'About you, Samivel,' said Mr. Weller, in a patronising and impressive voice.
'I am not so blind, Sam, as not to have seen, a long time since, that you entertain something more than a friendly feeling towards Mrs. Winkle's maid,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'You hear this, Samivel?' said Mr. Weller, in the same judicial form of speech as before.
'I hope, Sir,' said Sam, addressing his master, 'I hope there's no harm in a young man takin' notice of a young 'ooman as is undeniably good-looking and well-conducted.'
'Certainly not,' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Not by no means,' acquiesced Mr. Weller, affably but magisterially.
'So far from thinking there is anything wrong in conduct so natural,' resumed Mr. Pickwick, 'it is my wish to assist and promote your wishes in this respect. With this view, I have had a little conversation with your father; and finding that he is of my opinion - '
'The lady not bein' a widder,' interposed Mr. Weller in explanation.
'The lady not being a widow,' said Mr. Pickwick, smiling. 'I wish to free you from the restraint which your present position imposes upon you, and to mark my sense of your fidelity and many excellent qualities, by enabling you to marry this girl at once, and to earn an independent livelihood for yourself and family. I shall be proud, Sam,' said Mr. Pickwick, whose voice had faltered a little hitherto, but now resumed its customary tone, 'proud and happy to make your future prospects in life my grateful and peculiar care.'
There was a profound silence for a short time, and then Sam said, in a low, husky sort of voice, but firmly withal -
'I'm very much obliged to you for your goodness, Sir, as is only like yourself; but it can't be done.'
'Can't be done!' ejaculated Mr. Pickwick in astonishment.
'Samivel!' said Mr. Weller, with dignity.
'I say it can't be done,' repeated Sam in a louder key. 'Wot's to become of you, Sir?'
'My good fellow,' replied Mr. Pickwick, 'the recent changes among my friends will alter my mode of life in future, entirely; besides, I am growing older, and want repose and quiet. My rambles, Sam, are over.'
'How do I know that 'ere, sir?' argued Sam. 'You think so now! S'pose you wos to change your mind, vich is not unlikely, for you've the spirit o' five-and-twenty in you still, what 'ud become on you vithout me? It can't be done, Sir, it can't be done.'
'Wery good, Samivel, there's a good deal in that,' said Mr. Weller encouragingly.
'I speak after long deliberation, Sam, and with the certainty that I shall keep my word,' said Mr. Pickwick, shaking his head. 'New scenes have closed upon me; my rambles are at an end.'
'Wery good,' rejoined Sam. 'Then, that's the wery best reason wy you should alvays have somebody by you as understands you, to keep you up and make you comfortable. If you vant a more polished sort o' feller, vell and good, have him; but vages or no vages, notice or no notice, board or no board, lodgin' or no lodgin', Sam Veller, as you took from the old inn in the Borough, sticks by you, come what may; and let ev'rythin' and ev'rybody do their wery fiercest, nothin' shall ever perwent it!'
At the close of this declaration, which Sam made with great emotion, the elder Mr. Weller rose from his chair, and, forgetting all considerations of time, place, or propriety, waved his hat above his head, and gave three vehement cheers.
'My good fellow,' said Mr. Pickwick, when Mr. Weller had sat down again, rather abashed at his own enthusiasm, 'you are bound to consider the young woman also.'
'I do consider the young 'ooman, Sir,' said Sam. 'I have considered the young 'ooman. I've spoke to her. I've told her how I'm sitivated; she's ready to vait till I'm ready, and I believe she vill. If she don't, she's not the young 'ooman I take her for, and I give her up vith readiness. You've know'd me afore, Sir. My mind's made up, and nothin' can ever alter it.'
Who could combat this resolution? Not Mr. Pickwick. He derived, at that moment, more pride and luxury of feeling from the disinterested attachment of his humble friends, than ten thousand protestations from the greatest men living could have awakened in his heart.
While this conversation was passing in Mr. Pickwick's room, a little old gentleman in a suit of snuff-coloured clothes, followed by a porter carrying a small portmanteau, presented himself below; and, after securing a bed for the night, inquired of the waiter whether one Mrs. Winkle was staying there, to which question the waiter of course responded in the affirmative.
'Is she alone?' inquired the old gentleman.
'I believe she is, Sir,' replied the waiter; 'I can call her own maid, Sir, if you - '
'No, I don't want her,' said the old gentleman quickly. 'Show me to her room without announcing me.'
'Eh, Sir?' said the waiter.
'Are you deaf?' inquired the little old gentleman.
'Then listen, if you please. Can you hear me now?'
'That's well. Show me to Mrs. Winkle's room, without announcing me.'
As the little old gentleman uttered this command, he slipped five shillings into the waiter's hand, and looked steadily at him.
'Really, sir,' said the waiter, 'I don't know, sir, whether - '
'Ah! you'll do it, I see,' said the little old gentleman. 'You had better do it at once. It will save time.'
There was something so very cool and collected in the gentleman's manner, that the waiter put the five shillings in his pocket, and led him upstairs without another word.
'This is the room, is it?' said the gentleman. 'You may go.' The waiter complied, wondering much who the gentleman could be, and what he wanted; the little old gentleman, waiting till he was out of sight, tapped at the door.
'Come in,' said Arabella.
'Um, a pretty voice, at any rate,' murmured the little old gentleman; 'but that's nothing.' As he said this, he opened the door and walked in. Arabella, who was sitting at work, rose on beholding a stranger - a little confused - but by no means ungracefully so.
'Pray don't rise, ma'am,' said the unknown, walking in, and closing the door after him. 'Mrs. Winkle, I believe?'
Arabella inclined her head.
'Mrs. Nathaniel Winkle, who married the son of the old man at Birmingham?' said the stranger, eyeing Arabella with visible curiosity.
Again Arabella inclined her head, and looked uneasily round, as if uncertain whether to call for assistance.
'I surprise you, I see, ma'am,' said the old gentleman.
'Rather, I confess,' replied Arabella, wondering more and more.
'I'll take a chair, if you'll allow me, ma'am,' said the stranger.
He took one; and drawing a spectacle-case from his pocket, leisurely pulled out a pair of spectacles, which he adjusted on his nose.
'You don't know me, ma'am?' he said, looking so intently at Arabella that she began to feel alarmed.
'No, sir,' she replied timidly.
'No,' said the gentleman, nursing his left leg; 'I don't know how you should. You know my name, though, ma'am.'
'Do I?' said Arabella, trembling, though she scarcely knew why. 'May I ask what it is?'
'Presently, ma'am, presently,' said the stranger, not having yet removed his eyes from her countenance. 'You have been recently married, ma'am?'
'I have,' replied Arabella, in a scarcely audible tone, laying aside her work, and becoming greatly agitated as a thought, that had occurred to her before, struck more forcibly upon her mind.
'Without having represented to your husband the propriety of first consulting his father, on whom he is dependent, I think?' said the stranger.
Arabella applied her handkerchief to her eyes.
'Without an endeavour, even, to ascertain, by some indirect appeal, what were the old man's sentiments on a point in which he would naturally feel much interested?' said the stranger.
'I cannot deny it, Sir,' said Arabella.
'And without having sufficient property of your own to afford your husband any permanent assistance in exchange for the worldly advantages which you knew he would have gained if he had married agreeably to his father's wishes?' said the old gentleman. 'This is what boys and girls call disinterested affection, till they have boys and girls of their own, and then they see it in a rougher and very different light!'
Arabella's tears flowed fast, as she pleaded in extenuation that she was young and inexperienced; that her attachment had alone induced her to take the step to which she had resorted; and that she had been deprived of the counsel and guidance of her parents almost from infancy.
'It was wrong,' said the old gentleman in a milder tone, 'very wrong. It was romantic, unbusinesslike, foolish.'
'It was my fault; all my fault, Sir,' replied poor Arabella, weeping.
'Nonsense,' said the old gentleman; 'it was not your fault that he fell in love with you, I suppose? Yes it was, though,' said the old gentleman, looking rather slily at Arabella. 'It was your fault. He couldn't help it.'
This little compliment, or the little gentleman's odd way of paying it, or his altered manner - so much kinder than it was, at first - or all three together, forced a smile from Arabella in the midst of her tears.
'Where's your husband?' inquired the old gentleman, abruptly; stopping a smile which was just coming over his own face.
'I expect him every instant, sir,' said Arabella. 'I persuaded him to take a walk this morning. He is very low and wretched at not having heard from his father.'
'Low, is he?' said the old gentlemen. 'Serve him right!'
'He feels it on my account, I am afraid,' said Arabella; 'and indeed, Sir, I feel it deeply on his. I have been the sole means of bringing him to his present condition.'
'Don't mind it on his account, my dear,' said the old gentleman. 'It serves him right. I am glad of it - actually glad of it, as far as he is concerned.'
The words were scarcely out of the old gentleman's lips, when footsteps were heard ascending the stairs, which he and Arabella seemed both to recognise at the same moment. The little gentleman turned pale; and, making a strong effort to appear composed, stood up, as Mr. Winkle entered the room.
'Father!' cried Mr. Winkle, recoiling in amazement.
'Yes, sir,' replied the little old gentleman. 'Well, Sir, what have you got to say to me?'
Mr. Winkle remained silent.
'You are ashamed of yourself, I hope, Sir?' said the old gentleman.
Still Mr. Winkle said nothing.
'Are you ashamed of yourself, Sir, or are you not?' inquired the old gentleman.
'No, Sir,' replied Mr. Winkle, drawing Arabella's arm through his. 'I am not ashamed of myself, or of my wife either.'
'Upon my word!' cried the old gentleman ironically.
'I am very sorry to have done anything which has lessened your affection for me, Sir,' said Mr. Winkle; 'but I will say, at the same time, that I have no reason to be ashamed of having this lady for my wife, nor you of having her for a daughter.'
'Give me your hand, Nat,' said the old gentleman, in an altered voice. 'Kiss me, my love. You are a very charming little daughter-in-law after all!'
In a few minutes' time Mr. Winkle went in search of Mr. Pickwick, and returning with that gentleman, presented him to his father, whereupon they shook hands for five minutes incessantly.
'Mr. Pickwick, I thank you most heartily for all your kindness to my son,' said old Mr. Winkle, in a bluff, straightforward way. 'I am a hasty fellow, and when I saw you last, I was vexed and taken by surprise. I have judged for myself now, and am more than satisfied. Shall I make any more apologies, Mr. Pickwick?'
'Not one,' replied that gentleman. 'You have done the only thing wanting to complete my happiness.'
Hereupon there was another shaking of hands for five minutes longer, accompanied by a great number of complimentary speeches, which, besides being complimentary, had the additional and very novel recommendation of being sincere.
Sam had dutifully seen his father to the Belle Sauvage, when, on returning, he encountered the fat boy in the court, who had been charged with the delivery of a note from Emily Wardle.
'I say,' said Joe, who was unusually loquacious, 'what a pretty girl Mary is, isn't she? I am SO fond of her, I am!'
Mr. Weller made no verbal remark in reply; but eyeing the fat boy for a moment, quite transfixed at his presumption, led him by the collar to the corner, and dismissed him with a harmless but ceremonious kick. After which, he walked home, whistling.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER LVII IN WHICH THE PICKWICK CLUB IS FINALLY DISSOLVED, AND EVERYTHING CONCLUDED TO THE SATISFACTION OF EVERYBODY