‘But surely, my dear sir,’ said little Perker, as he stood in Mr. Pickwick’s apartment on the morning after the trial, ‘surely you don’t really mean — really and seriously now, and irritation apart — that you won’t pay these costs and damages?’
‘Not one halfpenny,’ said Mr. Pickwick firmly; ‘not one halfpenny.’
‘Hooroar for the principle, as the money-lender said ven he vouldn’t renew the bill,’ observed Mr. Weller, who was clearing away the breakfast-things.
‘Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick, ‘have the goodness to step downstairs.’
‘Cert’nly, sir,’ replied Mr. Weller; and acting on Mr. Pickwick’s gentle hint, Sam retired.
‘No, Perker,’ said Mr. Pickwick, with great seriousness of manner, ‘my friends here have endeavoured to dissuade me from this determination, but without avail. I shall employ myself as usual, until the opposite party have the power of issuing a legal process of execution against me; and if they are vile enough to avail themselves of it, and to arrest my person, I shall yield myself up with perfect cheerfulness and content of heart. When can they do this?’
‘They can issue execution, my dear Sir, for the amount of the damages and taxed costs, next term,’ replied Perker, ‘just two months hence, my dear sir.’
‘Very good,’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘Until that time, my dear fellow, let me hear no more of the matter. And now,’ continued Mr. Pickwick, looking round on his friends with a good-humoured smile, and a sparkle in the eye which no spectacles could dim or conceal, ‘the only question is, Where shall we go next?’
Mr. Tupman and Mr. Snodgrass were too much affected by their friend’s heroism to offer any reply. Mr. Winkle had not yet sufficiently recovered the recollection of his evidence at the trial, to make any observation on any subject, so Mr. Pickwick paused in vain.
‘Well,’ said that gentleman, ‘if you leave me to suggest our destination, I say Bath. I think none of us have ever been there.’
Nobody had; and as the proposition was warmly seconded by Perker, who considered it extremely probable that if Mr. Pickwick saw a little change and gaiety he would be inclined to think better of his determination, and worse of a debtor’s prison, it was carried unanimously; and Sam was at once despatched to the White Horse Cellar, to take five places by the half-past seven o’clock coach, next morning.
There were just two places to be had inside, and just three to be had out; so Sam Weller booked for them all, and having exchanged a few compliments with the booking-office clerk on the subject of a pewter half-crown which was tendered him as a portion of his ‘change,’ walked back to the George and Vulture, where he was pretty busily employed until bed-time in reducing clothes and linen into the smallest possible compass, and exerting his mechanical genius in constructing a variety of ingenious devices for keeping the lids on boxes which had neither locks nor hinges.
The next was a very unpropitious morning for a journey — muggy, damp, and drizzly. The horses in the stages that were going out, and had come through the city, were smoking so, that the outside passengers were invisible. The newspaper-sellers looked moist, and smelled mouldy; the wet ran off the hats of the orange-vendors as they thrust their heads into the coach windows, and diluted the insides in a refreshing manner. The Jews with the fifty-bladed penknives shut them up in despair; the men with the pocket-books made pocket-books of them. Watch-guards and toasting-forks were alike at a discount, and pencil-cases and sponges were a drug in the market.
Leaving Sam Weller to rescue the luggage from the seven or eight porters who flung themselves savagely upon it, the moment the coach stopped, and finding that they were about twenty minutes too early, Mr. Pickwick and his friends went for shelter into the travellers’ room — the last resource of human dejection.
The travellers’ room at the White Horse Cellar is of course uncomfortable; it would be no travellers’ room if it were not. It is the right-hand parlour, into which an aspiring kitchen fireplace appears to have walked, accompanied by a rebellious poker, tongs, and shovel. It is divided into boxes, for the solitary confinement of travellers, and is furnished with a clock, a looking-glass, and a live waiter, which latter article is kept in a small kennel for washing glasses, in a corner of the apartment.
One of these boxes was occupied, on this particular occasion, by a stern-eyed man of about five-and-forty, who had a bald and glossy forehead, with a good deal of black hair at the sides and back of his head, and large black whiskers. He was buttoned up to the chin in a brown coat; and had a large sealskin travelling-cap, and a greatcoat and cloak, lying on the seat beside him. He looked up from his breakfast as Mr. Pickwick entered, with a fierce and peremptory air, which was very dignified; and, having scrutinised that gentleman and his companions to his entire satisfaction, hummed a tune, in a manner which seemed to say that he rather suspected somebody wanted to take advantage of him, but it wouldn’t do.
‘Waiter,’ said the gentleman with the whiskers.
‘Sir?’ replied a man with a dirty complexion, and a towel of the same, emerging from the kennel before mentioned.
‘Some more toast.’
‘Buttered toast, mind,’ said the gentleman fiercely.
‘Directly, sir,’ replied the waiter.
The gentleman with the whiskers hummed a tune in the same manner as before, and pending the arrival of the toast, advanced to the front of the fire, and, taking his coat tails under his arms, looked at his boots and ruminated.
‘I wonder whereabouts in Bath this coach puts up,’ said Mr. Pickwick, mildly addressing Mr. Winkle.
‘Hum — eh — what’s that?’ said the strange man.
‘I made an observation to my friend, sir,’ replied Mr. Pickwick, always ready to enter into conversation. ‘I wondered at what house the Bath coach put up. Perhaps you can inform me.’
‘Are you going to Bath?’ said the strange man.
‘I am, sir,’ replied Mr. Pickwick.
‘And those other gentlemen?’
‘They are going also,’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘Not inside — I’ll be damned if you’re going inside,’ said the strange man.
‘Not all of us,’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘No, not all of you,’ said the strange man emphatically. ‘I’ve taken two places. If they try to squeeze six people into an infernal box that only holds four, I’ll take a post-chaise and bring an action. I’ve paid my fare. It won’t do; I told the clerk when I took my places that it wouldn’t do. I know these things have been done. I know they are done every day; but I never was done, and I never will be. Those who know me best, best know it; crush me!’ Here the fierce gentleman rang the bell with great violence, and told the waiter he’d better bring the toast in five seconds, or he’d know the reason why.
‘My good sir,’ said Mr. Pickwick, ‘you will allow me to observe that this is a very unnecessary display of excitement. I have only taken places inside for two.’
‘I am glad to hear it,’ said the fierce man. ‘I withdraw my expressions. I tender an apology. There’s my card. Give me your acquaintance.’
‘With great pleasure, Sir,’ replied Mr. Pickwick. ‘We are to be fellow-travellers, and I hope we shall find each other’s society mutually agreeable.’
‘I hope we shall,’ said the fierce gentleman. ‘I know we shall. I like your looks; they please me. Gentlemen, your hands and names. Know me.’
Of course, an interchange of friendly salutations followed this gracious speech; and the fierce gentleman immediately proceeded to inform the friends, in the same short, abrupt, jerking sentences, that his name was Dowler; that he was going to Bath on pleasure; that he was formerly in the army; that he had now set up in business as a gentleman; that he lived upon the profits; and that the individual for whom the second place was taken, was a personage no less illustrious than Mrs. Dowler, his lady wife.
‘She’s a fine woman,’ said Mr. Dowler. ‘I am proud of her. I have reason.’
‘I hope I shall have the pleasure of judging,’ said Mr. Pickwick, with a smile.
‘You shall,’ replied Dowler. ‘She shall know you. She shall esteem you. I courted her under singular circumstances. I won her through a rash vow. Thus. I saw her; I loved her; I proposed; she refused me. — “You love another?” — “Spare my blushes.” — “I know him.” — “You do.” — “Very good; if he remains here, I’ll skin him.”’
‘Lord bless me!’ exclaimed Mr. Pickwick involuntarily.
‘Did you skin the gentleman, Sir?’ inquired Mr. Winkle, with a very pale face.
‘I wrote him a note, I said it was a painful thing. And so it was.’
‘Certainly,’ interposed Mr. Winkle.
‘I said I had pledged my word as a gentleman to skin him. My character was at stake. I had no alternative. As an officer in His Majesty’s service, I was bound to skin him. I regretted the necessity, but it must be done. He was open to conviction. He saw that the rules of the service were imperative. He fled. I married her. Here’s the coach. That’s her head.’
As Mr. Dowler concluded, he pointed to a stage which had just driven up, from the open window of which a rather pretty face in a bright blue bonnet was looking among the crowd on the pavement, most probably for the rash man himself. Mr. Dowler paid his bill, and hurried out with his travelling cap, coat, and cloak; and Mr. Pickwick and his friends followed to secure their places.
Mr. Tupman and Mr. Snodgrass had seated themselves at the back part of the coach; Mr. Winkle had got inside; and Mr. Pickwick was preparing to follow him, when Sam Weller came up to his master, and whispering in his ear, begged to speak to him, with an air of the deepest mystery.
‘Well, Sam,’ said Mr. Pickwick, ‘what’s the matter now?’
‘Here’s rayther a rum go, sir,’ replied Sam.
‘What?’ inquired Mr. Pickwick.
‘This here, Sir,’ rejoined Sam. ‘I’m wery much afeerd, sir, that the properiator o’ this here coach is a playin’ some imperence vith us.’
‘How is that, Sam?’ said Mr. Pickwick; ‘aren’t the names down on the way-bill?’
‘The names is not only down on the vay-bill, Sir,’ replied Sam, ‘but they’ve painted vun on ‘em up, on the door o’ the coach.’ As Sam spoke, he pointed to that part of the coach door on which the proprietor’s name usually appears; and there, sure enough, in gilt letters of a goodly size, was the magic name of Pickwick!
‘Dear me,’ exclaimed Mr. Pickwick, quite staggered by the coincidence; ‘what a very extraordinary thing!’