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THE DICKENS DICTIONARY
By GILBERT A. PIERCE
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
POSTHUMOUS PAPERS OF THE PICKWICK CLUB OUTLINE
At a meeting of the Pickwick Club in London four members of the club were constituted a Corresponding Society, charged with the duty of travel and observation and subsequent report to the club, each member being, carefully instructed to pay his own expenses. The four were Samuel Pickwick, the founder of the club, Tracy Tupman—the too susceptible Tupman—Augustus Snodgrass, a man of poetic turn, and Nathaniel Winkle, a sportsman.
The four companions set out on their adventures on the 13th of May, 1827. Their rendezvous was the Golden Cross, and Mr. Pickwick, in his eagerness to begin the accumulation of wisdom, succeeded in drawing down upon himself the wrath of his cab driver. The altercation which followed was broken up by the interference of a volatile and voluble young man, Mr. Alfred Jingle, who rescued Mr. Pickwick, attached himself to the whole party, and went with them on the coach to Rochester, entertaining them with his frivolous tales by the way.
At the Bull Inn, where they put up, they found there was to be a ball in the evening, and after dinner, to which Mr. Jingle had been invited, Mr. Tupman fell an easy prey to the stranger and his own susceptibility, purchased tickets to the ball, and abstracted Mr. Winkle's coat, which he lent to Mr. Jingle.
"It's a new coat," said Mr. Tupman, as the stranger surveyed himself with great complacency in a cheval glass. "The first that's been made with our club button,"— and he called his companion's attention to the large gilt button which displayed a bust of Mr. Pickwick in the centre, and the letters "P. C." on either side.
"'P. C.,'" said the stranger,—"queer set out—old fellow's likeness and 'P. C.'—What does P. C.' stand for—Peculiar Coat, eh?" Mr. Tupman, with rising indignation, and great importance, explained the mystic device.
"Rather short in the waist, ain't it?" said the stranger, screwing himself round, to catch a glimpse in the glass of the waist buttons which were half way up his back. "Like a general postman's coat—queer coats those—made by contract—no measuring—mysterious dispensations of Providence—all the short men get long coats—all the long men short ones." Running on in this way, Mr. Tupman's new companion adjusted his dress, or rather the dress of Mr. Winkle; and, accompanied by Mr. Tupman, ascended the staircase leading to the ball-room.
There was a certain Dr. Slammer, surgeon to the Ninety-seventh, present, a general favorite, who was paying great attention to a widow whose whole air was that of a rich woman.
Upon the doctor and the widow the eyes both of Mr. Tupman and his companion had been fixed for some time, when the stranger broke silence.
"Lots of money—old girl—pompous doctor—not a bad idea—good fun," were the intelligible sentences which issued from his lips. Mr. Tupman looked inquisitively in his face.
"I'll dance with the widow," said the stranger.
"Who is she?" inquired Mr. Tupman.
"Don't know—never saw her in all my life—cut out the doctor—here goes." And the stranger forthwith crossed the room; and, leaning against a mantel-piece, commenced gazing with an air of respectful and melancholy admiration on the fat countenance of the little old lady. Mr. Tupman looked on in mute astonishment. The stranger progressed rapidly. The little doctor danced with another lady—the widow dropped her fan; the stranger picked it up, and presented it,—a smile, a bow, a courtesy, a few words of conversation. The stranger walked boldly up to, and returned with, the master of the ceremonies, a little introductory pantomime, and the stranger and Mrs. Budger took their places in a quadrille.
The surprise of Mr. Tupman at this summary proceeding, great as it was, was immeasurably exceeded by the astonishment of the doctor. The stranger was young, and the widow was flattered. The doctor's attentions were unheeded by the widow; and the doctor's indignation was wholly lost on his imperturbable rival. Doctor Slammer was paralyzed. He, Doctor Slammer of the Ninety-seventh, to be extinguished in a moment by a man whom nobody had ever seen before, and whom nobody knew even now. Doctor Slammer,—Doctor Slammer of the Ninety-seventh rejected! Impossible! It could not be! Yes, it was: there they were. What! introducing his friend! Could he believe his eyes! He looked again, and was under the painful necessity of admitting the veracity of his optics. Mrs. Budger was dancing with Mr. Tracy Tupman: there was no mistaking the fact. There was the widow before him, bouncing bodily here and there with unwonted vigor; and Mr. Tracy Tupman hopping about with a face expressive of the most intense solemnity, dancing (as a good many people do) as if a quadrille were not a thing to be laughed at, but a severe trial to the feelings, which it requires inflexible resolution to encounter.
Silently and patiently did the doctor bear all this, and all the handings of negus, and watching for glasses, and darting for biscuits, and coquetting, that ensued; but, a few seconds after the stranger had disappeared to lead Mrs. Budger to her carriage, he darted swiftly from the room, with every particle of his hitherto-bottled-up indignation effervescing from all parts of his countenance, in a perspiration of passion.
The stranger was returning, and Mr. Tupman was beside him. He spoke in a low tone, and laughed. The little doctor thirsted for his life. He was exulting. He had triumphed.
"Sir!" said the doctor in an awful voice, producing a card, and retiring into an angle of the passage, "my name is Slammer, Doctor Slammer, sir—Ninetyseventh regiment—Chatham Barracks—my card, sir, my card." He would have added more; but his indignation choked him.
"Ah!" replied the stranger coolly; "Slammer—much obliged—polite attention—not ill now, Slammer—but when I am—knock you up."
"You—you're a shuffler, sir," gasped the furious doctor, "a poltroon, a coward, a liar, a—a—will nothing induce you to give me your card, sir ?"
"Oh! I see," said the stranger, half aside, "negus too strong here—liberal landlord—very foolish—very—lemonade much better—hot rooms—elderly gentleman—suffer for it in the morning—cruel—cruel;" and he moved on a step or two.
"You are stopping in this house, sir," said the indignant little man: "you are intoxicated now, sir; you shall hear from me in the morning, sir. I shall find you out."
"Rather you found me out than found me at home," replied the unmoved stranger.
Doctor Slammer looked unutterable ferocity as he fixed his hat on his head with an indignant knock; and the stranger and Mr. Tupman ascended to the bedroom of the latter to restore the borrowed plumage to the unconscious Winkle.
That gentleman was fast asleep: the restoration was soon made. The stranger was extremely jocose; and Mr. Tracy Tupman, being quite bewildered with wine, negus, lights, and ladies, thought the whole affair an exquisite joke. His new friend departed; and after experiencing some slight difficulty in finding the orifice in his night-cap originally intended for the reception of his head, and finally overturning his candlestick in his struggles to put it on, Mr. Tracy Tupman managed to get into bed by a series of complicated evolutions, and shortly afterwards sank into repose.
Early on the following morning, inquiry was made at the inn for a gentleman wearing a bright blue dress-coat with a gilt button with "P. C." on it; and as Mr. Winkle answered to the description, he was awakened out of a sound sleep, dressed himself hastily, and went down stairs to the coffee-room.
An officer in undress uniform was looking out of the window. He turned round as Mr. Winkle entered, and made a stiff inclination of the head. Having ordered the attendants to retire, and closed the door very carefully, he said, "Mr. Winkle, I presume?"
"My name is Winkle, sir."
"You will not be surprised, sir, when I inform you that I have called here this morning on behalf of my friend, Doctor Slammer of the Ninety-seventh."
"Doctor Slammer!" said Mr. Winkle.
"Doctor Slammer. He begged me to express his opinion, that your conduct of last evening was of a description which no gentleman could endure, and (he added) which no one gentleman would pursue towards another."
Mr. Winkle's astonishment was too real and too evident to escape the observation of Doctor Slammer's friend; he therefore proceeded. "My friend, Doctor Slammer, requested me to add, that he is firmly persuaded you were intoxicated during a portion of the evening, and possibly unconscious of the extent of the insult you were guilty of. He commissioned me to say, that, should this be pleaded as an excuse for your behaviour, he will consent to accept a written apology, to be penned by you from my dictation."
"A written apology!" repeated Mr. Winkle in the most emphatic tone of amazement possible.
"Of course you know the alternative," replied the visitor coolly.
"Were you intrusted with this message to me by name?" inquired Mr. Winkle, whose intellects were hopelessly confused by this extraordinary conversation.
"I was not present myself," replied the visitor; "and, in con sequence of your firm refusal to give your card to Doctor Slammer, I was desired by that gentleman to identify the wearer of a very uncommon coat,—a bright blue dress-coat, with a gilt button displaying a bust, and the letters 'P. C.'"
Mr. Winkle actually staggered with astonishment as he heard his own costume thus minutely described. Doctor Slammer's friend proceeded:—
"From the inquiries I made at the bar just now, I was convinced that the owner of the coat in question arrived here, with three gentlemen, yesterday afternoon. I immediately sent up to the gentleman who was described as appearing the head of the party; and he at once referred me to you."
If the principal tower of Rochester Castle had suddenly walked from its foundation, and stationed itself opposite the coffee-room-window, Mr. Winkle's surprise would have been as nothing, compared with the profound astonishment with which he had heard this address. His first impression was that his coat had been stolen. "Will you allow me to detain you one moment?" said he.
"Certainly," replied the unwelcome visitor.
Mr. Winkle ran hastily up stairs, and with a trembling hand opened the bag. There was the coat in its usual place, but exhibiting, on a close inspection, evident tokens of having been worn on the preceding night.
"It must be so," said Mr. Winkle, letting the coat fall from his hands. "I took too much wine after dinner, and have a very vague recollection of walking about the streets, and smoking a cigar afterwards. The fact is I was very drunk. I must have changed my coat, gone somewhere, and insulted somebody,—I have no doubt of it,—and this message is the terrible consequence." Saying which, Mr. Winkle retraced his steps in the direction of the coffee-room, with the gloomy and dreadful resolve of accepting the challenge of the warlike Doctor Slammer, and abiding by the worst consequences that might ensue.
To this determination Mr. Winkle was urged by a variety of considerations; the first of which was his reputation with the club. He had always been looked up to as a high authority on all matters of amusement and dexterity, whether offensive, defensive, or inoffensive; and if, on this very first occasion of being put to the test, he shrunk back from the trial, beneath his leader's eye, his name and standing were lost forever. Besides, he remembered to have heard it frequently surmised by the uninitiated in such matters, that, by an understood arrangement between the seconds, the pistols were seldom loaded with ball; and, furthermore, he reflected, that if he applied to Mr. Snodgrass to act as his second, and depicted the danger in glowing terms, that gentleman might possibly communicate the intelligence to Mr. Pickwick, who would certainly lose no time in transmitting it to the local authorities, and thus prevent the killing or maiming of his follower.
Such were his thoughts when he returned to the coffee-room, and intimated his intention of accepting the doctor's challenge....
That morning's breakfast passed heavily off. Mr. Tupman was not in a condition to rise after the unwonted dissipation of the previous night; Mr. Snodgrass appeared to labor under a poetical depression of spirits; and even Mr. Pickwick evinced an unusual attachment to silence and soda-water. Mr. Winkle eagerly watched his opportunity. It was not long wanting. Mr Snodgrass proposed a visit to the castle; and, as Mr. Winkle was the only other member of the party disposed to walk, they went out together.
"Snodgrass," said Mr. Winkle when they had turned out of the public street,—"Snodgrass, my dear fellow, can I rely upon your secrecy?" As he said this, he most devoutly and earnestly hoped he could not.
"You can," replied Mr. Snodgrass. "Hear me swear—"
"No, no!" interrupted Winkle, terrified at the idea of his companion's unconsciously pledging himself not to give information. "Don't swear, don't swear, it's quite unnecessary."
Mr. Snodgrass dropped the hand which he had, in the spirit of poesy, raised towards the clouds as he made the above appeal, and assumed an attitude of attention.
"I want your assistance, my dear fellow, in an affair of honor," said Mr. Winkle.
"You shall have it," replied Mr. Snodgrass, clasping his friend's hand.
"With a doctor,—Doctor Slammer of the Ninety-seventh,"—said Mr. Winkle, wishing to make the matter appear as solemn as possible: "an affair with an officer, seconded by another officer, at sunset this evening, in a lonely field beyond Fort Pitt."
"I will attend you," said Mr. Snodgrass.
He was astonished, but by no means dismayed. It is extraordinary how cool any party but the principal can be in such cases. Mr. Winkle had forgotten this. He had judged of his friend's feelings by his own.
"The consequences may be dreadful," said Mr. Winkle.
"I hope not," said Mr. Snodgrass.
"The doctor, I believe, is a very good shot," said Mr. Winkle.
"Most of these military men are," observed Mr. Snodgrass calmly; "but so are you; a'n't you?"
Mr. Winkle replied in the affirmative; and, perceiving that he had not alarmed his companion sufficiently, changed his ground.
"Snodgrass," he said in a voice tremulous with emotion, "if I fall, you will find in a packet which I shall place in your hands a note for my—for my father."
This attack was a failure also. Mr. Snodgrass was affected; but he undertook the delivery of the note as readily as if he had been a two-penny postman.
"If I fall," said Mr. Winkle, "or, if the doctor falls, you, my dear friend, will be tried as an accessory before the fact. Shall I involve my friend in transportation,—possibly for life!"
Mr. Snodgrass winced a little at this; but his heroism was invincible. "In the cause of friendship," he fervently exclaimed, "I would brave all dangers."
How Mr. Winkle cursed his companion's devoted friendship interrally, as they walked silently along, side by side, for some minutes, each immersed in his own meditations! The morning was wearing away: he grew desperate.
"Snodgrass," he said, stopping suddenly, "do not let me be balked in this matter; do not give information to the local authorities; do not obtain the assistance of several peace-officers to take either me, or Doctor Slammer of the Ninety-seventh Regiment, at present quartered in Chatham Barracks, into custody, and thus prevent this duel,—I say, do not."
Mr. Snodgrass seized his friend's hand warmly, as he enthusiastically replied, "Not for worlds!"
A thrill passed over Mr. Winkle's frame, as the conviction that he had nothing to hope from his friend's fears, and that he was destined to become an animated target, rushed forcibly upon him....
It was a dull and heavy evening when they again sallied forth on their awkward errand. Mr. Winkle was muffled up in a huge cloak to escape observation; and Mr. Snodgrass bore under his the instruments of destruction....
Excerpted from THE DICKENS DICTIONARY by GILBERT A. PIERCE. Copyright © 2006 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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