Chapters XXIV - XXVI of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.
This morning I woke up to the hardest frost yet of the season: not spectacular, mind, I'd say an average late autumn frost, but still remarkable in that it's not been this cold for many months. I smashed the water of the chicken's water bowls, attempted to put their jumpers on (they flat out won't wear them) and now I'm sitting at my desk in front of the fire. November 1836, however, puts any chill I might have into perspective: October 1036 marked the start of one of the coldest winters on record; by November the gales had begun; several trees had even been blown down in London. The winter would get more brutal yet and it lasted even through to May of 1837, that spring also breaking records. But readers of the ninth instalment of The Pickwick Papers weren't to know that; it was just the beginning.
Wherein Mr. Peter Magnus Grows Jealous, and The Middle-Aged Lady Apprehensive,
which Brings the Pickwickians Within the Grasp of the Law
|'Mr Weller attacks the executive of Ipswich'|
Mr. Magnus, who we first met in the eighth instalment (Chapter XXII), asks Mr. Pickwick for his advice on proposing to a certain middle aged lady with whom he is in love, asking him if he himself has ever proposed: unsurprisingly Pickwick, who faces legal action following a misunderstanding in which he did not actually propose replies "with great energy, ‘never.’". He goes on to share some ideas before Magnus "rushed desperately from the room" to go about his proposal, meanwhile Tupman, Snodgrass, and Winkle arrive. Mr. Magnus swiftly returns, is introduced to the aforementioned, and then shares the happy news the lady has accepted. There is only one problem: when she is brought to be introduced to the Pickwickians, she is unfortunately very familiar to Mr. Pickwick: it was her bedroom Pickwick found himself in in the previous instalment when he was lost in Gray's Inn.
The lady was at the upper end of the room. As Mr. Pickwick bowed, he took his spectacles from his waistcoat pocket, and put them on; a process which he had no sooner gone through, than, uttering an exclamation of surprise, Mr. Pickwick retreated several paces, and the lady, with a half-suppressed scream, hid her face in her hands, and dropped into a chair; whereupon Mr. Peter Magnus was stricken motionless on the spot, and gazed from one to the other, with a countenance expressive of the extremities of horror and surprise.
This certainly was, to all appearance, very unaccountable behaviour; but the fact is, that Mr. Pickwick no sooner put on his spectacles, than he at once recognised in the future Mrs. Magnus the lady into whose room he had so unwarrantably intruded on the previous night; and the spectacles had no sooner crossed Mr. Pickwick’s nose, than the lady at once identified the countenance which she had seen surrounded by all the horrors of a nightcap. So the lady screamed, and Mr. Pickwick started.
‘Mr. Pickwick!’ exclaimed Mr. Magnus, lost in astonishment, ‘what is the meaning of this, Sir? What is the meaning of it, Sir?’ added Mr. Magnus, in a threatening, and a louder tone.
‘Sir,’ said Mr. Pickwick, somewhat indignant at the very sudden manner in which Mr. Peter Magnus had conjugated himself into the imperative mood, ‘I decline answering that question.’
‘You decline it, Sir?’ said Mr. Magnus.
‘I do, Sir,’ replied Mr. Pickwick; ‘I object to say anything which may compromise that lady, or awaken unpleasant recollections in her breast, without her consent and permission.’
‘Miss Witherfield,’ said Mr. Peter Magnus, ‘do you know this person?’
‘Know him!’ repeated the middle-aged lady, hesitating.
‘Yes, know him, ma’am; I said know him,’ replied Mr. Magnus, with ferocity.
‘I have seen him,’ replied the middle-aged lady.
‘Where?’ inquired Mr. Magnus, ‘where?’
‘That,’ said the middle-aged lady, rising from her seat, and averting her head—‘that I would not reveal for worlds.’
‘I understand you, ma’am,’ said Mr. Pickwick, ‘and respect your delicacy; it shall never be revealed by me depend upon it.’
‘Upon my word, ma’am,’ said Mr. Magnus, ‘considering the situation in which I am placed with regard to yourself, you carry this matter off with tolerable coolness—tolerable coolness, ma’am.’
The horror of it! The absolute sheer awkwardness of the encounter, coupled with having no idea quite what is going on, sends Mr. Magnus into a fury and the only way to really settle this is, of course, a duel. Duelling generally took place to restore honour to the offended: three months after this ninth instalment for example, Alexander Pushkin would die in a duel. Another example: whilst Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington even fought in a duel (in 1829) with Earl of Winchilsea; he was one of four Prime Ministers who fought in a duel (the others being William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne in 1780, Pitt the Younger in 1798, and George Canning in 1809). The thought of our Mr. Pickwick in a duel is rather alarming, and Miss Witherfield agreed and reported them both to the magistrate Mr. Nupkins who has them both arrested.
Showing, Among a Variety of Pleasant Matters, How Majestic and Impartial Mr. Nupkins Was; and How Mr. Weller Returned Mr. Job Trotter’s Shuttlecock as Heavily as it Came—with Another Matter, Which will Found in its Place
|'Job Trotter encounters Sam in Mr. Muzzle's|
kitchen' by Phiz.
Mr. Nupkins really is rather pompous, and the trial is conducted fittingly:
The scene was an impressive one, well calculated to strike terror to the hearts of culprits, and to impress them with an adequate idea of the stern majesty of the law. In front of a big book-case, in a big chair, behind a big table, and before a big volume, sat Mr. Nupkins, looking a full size larger than any one of them, big as they were. The table was adorned with piles of papers; and above the farther end of it, appeared the head and shoulders of Mr. Jinks, who was busily engaged in looking as busy as possible. The party having all entered, Muzzle carefully closed the door, and placed himself behind his master’s chair to await his orders. Mr. Nupkins threw himself back with thrilling solemnity, and scrutinised the faces of his unwilling visitors.
His unwilling visitors, in the end, are ordered to pay a fine apart from Pickwick and Tupman who are ordered to pay a large sum of money for bail. Mr. Pickwick then requests a private interview - and here's the shock - we learn that Nupkins daughter's suitor is none other than Mr. Jingle, currently assuming the name of Captain Fitz-Marshall! Pickwick reveals all:
Mr. Pickwick proceeded to pour into the horror-stricken ear of Mr. Nupkins, an abridged account of all Mr. Jingle’s atrocities. He related how he had first met him; how he had eloped with Miss Wardle; how he had cheerfully resigned the lady for a pecuniary consideration; how he had entrapped himself into a lady’s boarding-school at midnight; and how he (Mr. Pickwick) now felt it his duty to expose his assumption of his present name and rank.
As the narrative proceeded, all the warm blood in the body of Mr. Nupkins tingled up into the very tips of his ears. He had picked up the captain at a neighbouring race-course. Charmed with his long list of aristocratic acquaintance, his extensive travel, and his fashionable demeanour, Mrs. Nupkins and Miss Nupkins had exhibited Captain Fitz-Marshall, and quoted Captain Fitz-Marshall, and hurled Captain Fitz-Marshall at the devoted heads of their select circle of acquaintance, until their bosom friends, Mrs. Porkenham and the Misses Porkenhams, and Mr. Sidney Porkenham, were ready to burst with jealousy and despair. And now, to hear, after all, that he was a needy adventurer, a strolling player, and if not a swindler, something so very like it, that it was hard to tell the difference! Heavens! what would the Porkenhams say! What would be the triumph of Mr. Sidney Porkenham when he found that his addresses had been slighted for such a rival! How should he, Nupkins, meet the eye of old Porkenham at the next quarter-sessions! And what a handle would it be for the opposition magisterial party if the story got abroad!
‘But after all,’ said Mr. Nupkins, brightening for a moment, after a long pause; ‘after all, this is a mere statement. Captain Fitz-Marshall is a man of very engaging manners, and, I dare say, has many enemies. What proof have you of the truth of these representations?’
‘Confront me with him,’ said Mr. Pickwick, ‘that is all I ask, and all I require. Confront him with me and my friends here; you will want no further proof.’
Having consulted with Mrs. Nupkins and Miss Nupkins, Jingle, and later Job Trotter, are thrown out unceremoniously; meanwhile Sam Weller finds himself falling in love with "the pretty housemaid".
Which Contains A Brief Account Of The Progress Of The Action
Of Bardell Against Pickwick
After all that excitement, a brief chapter concerning Mrs. Bardell who still intent on suing Mr. Pickwick for breach of promise. In Chapter XXVI he wisely decides to move out of Goswell Street in London, the home of him and his landlady. Sam goes about collecting Mr. Pickwick's personal effects and learns not only that Mrs. Bardell will continue her legal action but also Messrs Dodson and Fogg believe they have a good chance of winning. The chapter concludes:
Mr. Weller wended his way back to the George and Vulture, and faithfully recounted to his master, such indications of the sharp practice of Dodson & Fogg, as he had contrived to pick up in his visit to Mrs. Bardell’s. An interview with Mr. Perker, next day, more than confirmed Mr. Weller’s statement; and Mr. Pickwick was fain to prepare for his Christmas visit to Dingley Dell, with the pleasant anticipation that some two or three months afterwards, an action brought against him for damages sustained by reason of a breach of promise of marriage, would be publicly tried in the Court of Common Pleas; the plaintiff having all the advantages derivable, not only from the force of circumstances, but from the sharp practice of Dodson & Fogg to boot.Yes, Christmas really is just around the corner now!