Chapters XXXVIII - XL of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.
Last month we were left with a wee cliffhanger: why has Mr. Winkle gone to Bristol of all places, and will Sam Weller find him?
The chapter begins,
How Mr. Winkle, When He Stepped Out Of The Frying-Pan, Walked Gently and
Comfortably Into The Fire
|'Conviviality at Bob Sawyer's' by Phiz.|
The ill-starred gentleman who had been the unfortunate cause of the unusual noise and disturbance which alarmed the inhabitants of the Royal Crescent in manner and form already described, after passing a night of great confusion and anxiety, left the roof beneath which his friends still slumbered, bound he knew not whither. The excellent and considerate feelings which prompted Mr. Winkle to take this step can never be too highly appreciated or too warmly extolled. ‘If,’ reasoned Mr. Winkle with himself—‘if this Dowler attempts (as I have no doubt he will) to carry into execution his threat of personal violence against myself, it will be incumbent on me to call him out. He has a wife; that wife is attached to, and dependent on him. Heavens! If I should kill him in the blindness of my wrath, what would be my feelings ever afterwards!’ This painful consideration operated so powerfully on the feelings of the humane young man, as to cause his knees to knock together, and his countenance to exhibit alarming manifestations of inward emotion. Impelled by such reflections, he grasped his carpet-bag, and creeping stealthily downstairs, shut the detestable street door with as little noise as possible, and walked off. Bending his steps towards the Royal Hotel, he found a coach on the point of starting for Bristol, and, thinking Bristol as good a place for his purpose as any other he could go to, he mounted the box, and reached his place of destination in such time as the pair of horses, who went the whole stage and back again, twice a day or more, could be reasonably supposed to arrive there.
Waiting for Mr. Dowler to calm down a little, Mr. Winkle decides against contacting Pickwick, instead deciding to stay in Bristol. He gets lost, and who should he bump into? Bob Sawyer and Ben Allen! Furthermore, we also learn Arabella, Winkle's sweetheart, is also in town avoiding a suitor. To Winkle's dismay he learns that Ben wishes her to marry Bob. All of this is put aside however when Mr. Dowler shows up. Happily their differences are sorted, but no sooner is that put to bed Sam Weller walks in and rebukes him for causing Pickwick more upset. They reach a compromise:
That Sam should retire, and leave Mr. Winkle in the undisturbed possession of his apartment, on the condition that he had permission to lock the door on the outside, and carry off the key; provided always, that in the event of an alarm of fire, or other dangerous contingency, the door should be instantly unlocked. That a letter should be written to Mr. Pickwick early next morning, and forwarded per Dowler, requesting his consent to Sam and Mr. Winkle’s remaining at Bristol, for the purpose and with the object already assigned, and begging an answer by the next coach—, if favourable, the aforesaid parties to remain accordingly, and if not, to return to Bath immediately on the receipt thereof. And, lastly, that Mr. Winkle should be understood as distinctly pledging himself not to resort to the window, fireplace, or other surreptitious mode of escape in the meanwhile. These stipulations having been concluded, Sam locked the door and departed.
Mr. Samuel Weller, Being Entrusted With A Mission Of Love, Proceeds To Execute It; With What Success Will Hereinafter Appear
The next day Sam keeps a very close eye on Winkle, and at eight o' clock that evening Mr. Pickwick arrives, saying
‘I thought it better to come myself,’ said Mr. Pickwick, addressing Mr. Winkle, as Sam disencumbered him of his great-coat and travelling-shawl, ‘to ascertain, before I gave my consent to Sam’s employment in this matter, that you are quite in earnest and serious, with respect to this young lady.’
Sam is then sent to find Arabella, who, by chance, lives next door to Mary, Sam's own sweetheart. She, Arabella, agrees to meet with him (chaperoned by Pickwick), and when they talk she reveals her love for him. Everything seems to be going swimmingly, and later in the chapter Pickwick meets "an elderly gentleman of scientific attainments" and the phenomena of light is discussed...
Introduces Mr. Pickwick to a New and not Uninteresting Scene in the Great Drama of Life
|'Mr. Pickwick sits for his portrait' by Phiz.|
... And from light to darkness. Dear Pickwickians, this is indeed a sad chapter. Mr. Pickwick having returned to Bath remains there, in which time nothing of note takes place. On returning to London, however:
On the third morning after their arrival, just as all the clocks in the city were striking nine individually, and somewhere about nine hundred and ninety-nine collectively, Sam was taking the air in George Yard, when a queer sort of fresh-painted vehicle drove up, out of which there jumped with great agility, throwing the reins to a stout man who sat beside him, a queer sort of gentleman, who seemed made for the vehicle, and the vehicle for him.
The vehicle was not exactly a gig, neither was it a stanhope. It was not what is currently denominated a dog-cart, neither was it a taxed cart, nor a chaise-cart, nor a guillotined cabriolet; and yet it had something of the character of each and every of these machines. It was painted a bright yellow, with the shafts and wheels picked out in black; and the driver sat in the orthodox sporting style, on cushions piled about two feet above the rail. The horse was a bay, a well-looking animal enough; but with something of a flash and dog-fighting air about him, nevertheless, which accorded both with the vehicle and his master.
The master himself was a man of about forty, with black hair, and carefully combed whiskers. He was dressed in a particularly gorgeous manner, with plenty of articles of jewellery about him—all about three sizes larger than those which are usually worn by gentlemen—and a rough greatcoat to crown the whole. Into one pocket of this greatcoat, he thrust his left hand the moment he dismounted, while from the other he drew forth, with his right, a very bright and glaring silk handkerchief, with which he whisked a speck or two of dust from his boots, and then, crumpling it in his hand, swaggered up the court.
It had not escaped Sam’s attention that, when this person dismounted, a shabby-looking man in a brown greatcoat shorn of divers buttons, who had been previously slinking about, on the opposite side of the way, crossed over, and remained stationary close by. Having something more than a suspicion of the object of the gentleman’s visit, Sam preceded him to the George and Vulture, and, turning sharp round, planted himself in the centre of the doorway.
‘Now, my fine fellow!’ said the man in the rough coat, in an imperious tone, attempting at the same time to push his way past.
‘Now, Sir, wot’s the matter?’ replied Sam, returning the push with compound interest.
‘Come, none of this, my man; this won’t do with me,’ said the owner of the rough coat, raising his voice, and turning white. ‘Here, Smouch!’
‘Well, wot’s amiss here?’ growled the man in the brown coat, who had been gradually sneaking up the court during this short dialogue.
‘Only some insolence of this young man’s,’ said the principal, giving Sam another push.
‘Come, none o’ this gammon,’ growled Smouch, giving him another, and a harder one.
This last push had the effect which it was intended by the experienced Mr. Smouch to produce; for while Sam, anxious to return the compliment, was grinding that gentleman’s body against the door-post, the principal crept past, and made his way to the bar, whither Sam, after bandying a few epithetical remarks with Mr. Smouch, followed at once.
‘Good-morning, my dear,’ said the principal, addressing the young lady at the bar, with Botany Bay ease, and New South Wales gentility; ‘which is Mr. Pickwick’s room, my dear?’
‘Show him up,’ said the barmaid to a waiter, without deigning another look at the exquisite, in reply to his inquiry.
He is shown up, and we learn he is the sheriff, and he has a warrant for Pickwick's arrest. Mr. Perker swiftly shows up but cannot convince the sheriff and our man Pickwick is taken to debtors prison where he must have his portrait done before being locked away. The chapter ends,
‘Where am I to sleep to-night?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.
‘Why, I don’t rightly know about to-night,’ replied the stout turnkey. ‘You’ll be chummed on somebody to-morrow, and then you’ll be all snug and comfortable. The first night’s generally rather unsettled, but you’ll be set all squares to-morrow.’
After some discussion, it was discovered that one of the turnkeys had a bed to let, which Mr. Pickwick could have for that night. He gladly agreed to hire it.
‘If you’ll come with me, I’ll show it you at once,’ said the man. ‘It ain’t a large ‘un; but it’s an out-and-outer to sleep in. This way, sir.’
They passed through the inner gate, and descended a short flight of steps. The key was turned after them; and Mr. Pickwick found himself, for the first time in his life, within the walls of a debtors’ prison.
If we thought Winkle's flight to Bristol was a cliffhanger, what can we say about this! Our Pickwick in debtor's prison... And to make matters worse, for us at least, there will be no instalment for May. We must wait until June to discover Pickwick's fate...